Ofcom has called for a ‘try before you buy’ policy to be implemented on mobile phones to help consumers ‘get the coverage that they want’.
The regulator’s consumer panel made the calls today (6 October) alongside claims that more than half of consumers have experienced problems with reception, with a third saying it was a regular experience.
A lack of accurate coverage information made the problem worse, the panel said.
The survey of more than 1,700 UK adults also found 91% of small businesses have had difficulties with mobile coverage.
Anna Bradley, chairwoman of the panel, said: ‘While all the focus is on rolling out new services like mobile broadband, our research reveals that large numbers of consumers and small business employees are still having problems making even basic voice calls.’
‘This kind of basic coverage is hugely important to consumers and essential for small businesses to thrive.’
Some networks were against the idea. One network source told Mobile that it would be difficult to implement such a policy because once the handset is returned, it is second hand. This would result in higher costs for the operator, which would ultimately be passed onto the consumer.
The source said: ‘The problem is, as soon as you un-box a handset and use it, it becomes a second hand product - its value reduces by half. On average the handsets cost the operators £300, so that’s a hit of £150 that the operator has to take. Higher end handsets cost operators between £400 and £500, so that’s a £200 to £250 hit they’d have to take on returns.’
The panel conceded that good coverage depends on a variety of factors, including where the phone was being used, the local landscape and the weather -and that accurate information would always be an ‘inexact science’.
It found the most common problem for consumers was so-called ‘not spots’, where the user received no reception at all. A total of 36% of mobile users have experienced this, 18% regularly.
This was followed by poor sound quality and text messages being delivered late, which were both experienced by 20% of users, 8% regularly.
A total of 12% of those who had problems had contacted customer services, but only 2% had changed networks.
Operators do currently offer a 14 day money back on mobile broadband, because it relies on 3G coverage, ‘which is not as extensive as 2G yet’, according to the operator source.