Operators, please improve your rural coverage

Returning after the summer lull, it seems little has changed in the telecoms world. Vodafone remains in the news, either because of renewed rumours it will be bought by AT&T or because it has made yet another fixed-line acquisition--this time in the shape of Hellas Online in Greece.

More alarming news for Europe has come from Galileo, the European Union's answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). It seems the first two fully operational satellites were placed into the wrong orbit following last week's launch, no doubt adding further cost and delay to the programme.

The EU is clearly still extremely keen to weaken the region's reliance on GPS and implement a system that it claims will have benefits with an accumulated value of around €90 billion ($118 billion) over 20 years.

The programme has been beset by problems since it began, and is already over budget and well past initial launch expectations. Nonetheless, an EU system sounds appealing--assuming it works well.

The usefulness of navigation systems certainly hits home when you're driving around unfamiliar areas and need help to get you from A to B. Of course it's also possible to get apps that allow you to download GPS maps, which work even when you do not have a mobile internet connection.

Such apps are not always terribly reliable, though, and can often get the final destination wrong, or try to send you the wrong way down one-way streets (as I found in rural France!). At times like these, you want to switch to real-time navigation services to find out where you actually are. That requires an internet connection. Unfortunately, French operators seem to have forgotten to extend their network coverage to large swathes of rural France (most of Languedoc appeared to have terrible 3G coverage, for example).

Countless times, we only had access to EDGE networks (which much as operators try to tell you otherwise, are almost completely useless for mobile data), or no data network at all. France is also certainly not the only country with rural black spots (memories of driving around the English countryside spring to mind), but the extent of the lack of coverage seemed astounding.

As someone who lives in a city, I'm clearly one of the fortunate ones. I can certainly understand the frustration of country folk who in some cases cannot even make a mobile phone call--which was certainly the case in at least two places we stayed (in the Var and Languedoc).

So come on operators, improve that coverage where populations are sparse--if nothing else to help poor city dwellers (like me) maintain the kinds of services with which we are familiar, even when out and about!--Anne

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