Ofcom admit coverage targets in Scotland likely to be missed

5 April 2019   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

In evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Ofcom's chief technology officer said meeting targets for mobile coverage would be difficult.

Mobile operators were expected to provide 95% of UK geographical coverage by 2022, but this target poses specific challenges in Scotland, according to Mansoor Hanif.

While it's been proposed that 74% of Scotland should be targeted for mobile coverage, Hanif says that the geography of Scotland's mountainous areas makes this difficult with existing technology.

He added that innovation is the key to improving coverage rather than installing mobile towers across national parks and mountainous areas.

These latest comments to the Scottish Parliament come after a series of reports on rural connectivity in the last year which have highlighted the issues faced by operators.

rural telecommunications tower

Technology is the answer

In the committee hearing, MSPs quizzed Hanif on mobile coverage issues and he cited the challenging geography of areas like the Cairngorms.

He explained that, while those areas could be covered by mobile operators, it would take innovations such as low orbit satellites and device-to-device technology to enable coverage to these locations.

The possibility of additional towers across national parks was dismissed by Hanif as something that might desecrate the natural beauty of them.

Stewart Stevenson MSP criticised Ofcom for reducing the coverage obligation target for Scotland by 2% to 74%, arguing that it was "absolutely perverse" that it was being lowered instead of increased.

Stevenson added that he would rather see no 5G rollout and a focus on rural coverage rather than see cities benefiting from faster mobile data speeds while rural customers struggled to get basic services.

Coverage figures in Scotland

Different interpretations of coverage are available depending on whether we're talking about indoor or outdoor coverage and whether we're analysing coverage from one operator or all four major operators.

Ofcom's most recent Connected Nations report suggested only 38% of Scotland's landmass has good 4G coverage from all operators, although 78% are said to have coverage from at least one operator according to the report's Scotland data supplement.

It also found that only 46% of motorways and A roads have good 4G coverage from all operators, with 8% not having good coverage from any operator.

This tallies with research from the RAC conducted in 2018 which revealed that five of the worst ten affected areas for road coverage were in Scotland.

Highland areas were runaway winners with 910 miles not sufficiently covered, while Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Na h-Eileanan Siar and the Scottish Borders all found their way into the list. In total, they accounted for almost 2,000 miles of major roads.

Connectivity solutions under debate

Telecommunications is covered by Westminster politicians rather than being a matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and rural connectivity issues are found nationwide.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) shone a light on poor connectivity while the Welsh Assembly made their own recommendations in January 2019 based on evidence from network operators and Mobile UK.

They suggested that mobile roaming be looked at again as a way of extending coverage, but Openreach have recently rejected this idea as they believe it would lead to other operators piggybacking on EE's infrastructure rather than investing in their own.

Region by region, EE have the best coverage in 11 of the 12 areas, coming second only to O2 in Yorkshire and the Humber. Meanwhile, Three and Vodafone consistently vie for the worst operator for coverage across the regions.

Find out more about coverage across the UK in our dedicated guide.

Find the best deal on a new handset

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations and climate positive

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we have a climate positive workforce.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter