Transparency, simplicity, reliability and fairness – these are the things customers most want from their mobile network. Still, the industry has a tendency to sniff at such mundane benefits and seeks to wow customers with the promise of shiny new technology, which it hopes will make more money in the longer run.
That’s understandable as networks and manufacturers are businesses after all, and they have every right to try and dazzle their intended customer base in the hope of persuading them to part with more cash.
Every right, that is, as long as they don’t ignore these hygiene issues. It seems to me, however, that network quality is still the poor relation to new services, new shops, new phones and new ad campaigns. Operators are investing heavily, but they are putting the focus, as you would expect, on 4G.
This week EE celebrates adding a record 1.3 million customers, as it ploughs money into 4G at affordable rates. The network is extending its coverage with 14 more towns, taking the total to 299, and the population coverage to 73%. Vodafone is also ploughing huge investment into 4G across Europe. It has also announced plans to provide mobile network access to 100 communities for the first time.
Commendable though this is, I can’t help thinking it is not enough. It seems to me as far as network quality is concerned we are continuing the under achievements of the past.
The Government still wants more action to cut signal failure, especially in remote areas. It is right to seek further improvements in out of the way places. However the focus should not stop at the Wash, Land’s End or John O’Groats. Signal quality in general is still highly variable.
I am on EE, and I can’t get a signal for large parts of my train commute; at home, in the city of Chelmsford, I can get signal if I am near the fridge; at the family getaway, in the quiet coastal area of Brightlingsea, it’s on one bar of 3G – provided the weather isn’t cloudy, in which case it is GPRS or basically nothing. Everybody will have their own stories of mobile trials and tribulations. And EE is no worse than any other network I’m sure.
The point is we are on the cusp of a big change in our society. And this is one that the mobile industry has been predicting and working towards.
There are now 2.1 billion mobile web users in the world, and internet access on mobile devices will outstrip that from desktop PCs within the next year or so. In the first half of this year, the pace has quickened noticeably - reports and commercial sources cite a huge upswing as the trend gains pace. This is not just something that is going to happen in the future. It is taking place now.
So why do the same patterns of coverage persist? Does the industry, deep down, believe that it is doing okay? Does it think that mobile coverage is a bit of nice-to-have? Because if it does, that is now like saying that we should only have paved roads between major towns, and cart tracks everywhere else.
Despite wonderful technical advances like 4G, mobile coverage for many people is still intermittent and unpredictable. It is good that EE is making profits from 4G, but I suspect it will take action from the Government to encourage operators to build networks that are truly reliable and consistent enough for the mobile information age.