By Daniel Hunter
The government could force mobile network operators to improve their coverage in so-called 'notspots', if they don't do it voluntarily.
Around 20% of the UK has poor mobile network coverage, with 10% virtually unable to get any signal at all.
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is leading to fight to secure better coverage for the UK's rural 'notspot' areas.
"It can't be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The government isn't prepared to let that situation continue," he said.
There are number of options available to the network operators.
- National roaming - if a network isn't available in a certain area, phones will automatically connect to another network.
- Infrastructure sharing - mobile networks share masts by installing their own transmitters.
- Reforming virtual networks - agreements between Tesco and Virgin with single operators would be extended to all four networks.
- Coverage obligation - operators are given obligated to cover a certain percentage of the country. They are left to decide how to do it themselves.
The government is consulting with the mobile network operators, businesses and the public on the proposals until 26 November.
But Mr Javid's campaign could be scuppered by his own party. In a Whitehall letter seen by the The Times, Home Secretary Theresa May suggests there may security implications if national roaming was adopted.
The letter reads: "[It] could have a detrimental impact on law enforcement, security and intelligence agency access to communications data and lawful intercept."
How much does poor signal cost?
According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), 70% of business owners believe that their business would suffer if they couldn't receive decent phone signal.
And new research from BT Business estimates that UK SMEs could be losing out on as much as £90m by missing just one call - a problem intensified in 'notspots'.
Based on responses to its survey, BT estimates that the average value of a call to a business is £1,200.
When asked to estimate the cost of being out of contact by phone for a full 24 hours, decision makers put the figure far higher — on average over £9,000, and in some cases as high as £20,000.
Danny Longbottom, managing director, UK SME, BT Business, said: “We already know from speaking to our customers that missed calls mean missed business. Companies, especially SMEs, are becoming increasingly mobile — 77% offer flexible working and 45% hot-desking, according to the research. So getting calls to the right person is potentially more difficult."
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