UK MNOs reject renewed call for national roaming agreement

roaming

Mobile network operators (MNOs) in the UK remain opposed to the concept of national roaming agreements despite renewed calls for such a scheme to be implemented, reiterating that they believe it would be unworkable and also rejecting claims that they are set to miss key coverage targets agreed with the government in 2014.

This weekend, members of parliament (MPs) again called on the government to consider a national roaming scheme to eliminate UK mobile “not spots”, claiming that the market’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) are unlikely to meet a December 2017 target to improve mobile voice coverage to 90 per cent of the UK landmass.

The British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), which is led by the MP Grant Shapps, said in a new report that mobile coverage in the UK had not improved significantly in the two years since the four MNOs agreed to invest £5 billion (€5.55 billion/$6 billion) to improve mobile coverage across the UK by 2017.

However, O2 UK told FierceWireless:Europe in emailed comments that its stance towards national roaming remains unchanged, and also indicated that it is on track to hit its 90 per cent obligation in terms of geographical coverage by the end of 2017.

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“We have made our concerns over the national roaming proposals very clear and have advised the government on a range of alternative solutions to achieve the same ambition, some of which we have already embarked upon. National roaming is a regulatory solution that will worsen the experience people have when using their phones and undermine future investment in mobile infrastructure in the UK,” an O2 UK spokesperson said.

Vodafone UK, Three UK and EE have also previously voiced their opposition to national roaming.

EE stressed that it is also set to reach over 90 per cent of the UK geography before the government’s deadline, “with not only voice coverage, but also high-speed 4G data coverage,” CEO Marc Allera said in an emailed statement.

“While we do agree that more mobile coverage is critical to Digital Britain, this report fails to recognise the advances in mobile coverage since 2014. The UK is known to have among the best and fastest mobile networks in the world, but more can be done and our job is never finished,” he said.

EE also questioned the validity of the report, noting that it is based on Ofcom figures from June 2015. It further noted that national roaming would take longer to deliver than 90 per cent coverage, and would produce a worse result for the consumer.

“National roaming is not the answer for the UK not-spots, and the concept of national roaming was fully considered by the previous government and discounted as a solution to mobile coverage issues in Britain,” Allera said.

Vodafone also said it had already surpassed the 90 per cent figure as referred to in the report. 

The BIG report focused on the fact that visitors to the UK “have consistently enjoyed better and broader mobile coverage. Whereas British consumers remain stuck with a single provider, international SIM cards roam between different networks.”

In 2014, the UK government looked into the idea of creating a national roaming agreement in an effort to improve poor signal coverage in certain areas. It was eventually agreed that by end-2017, MNOs would pump £5 billion into mobile infrastructure improvements, with the target of providing 90 per cent coverage for voice and SMS services, and 85 per cent coverage for “full” coverage -- which is taken to refer to 3G and 4G services.