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The 3G traffic jam: Where next?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 11:02 UK time, Friday, 15 January 2010

My post earlier this week asking for your experiences with 3G phone networks got an amazing response. The message came through loud and clear - the networks aren't providing decent coverage, and the problem isn't restricted to London, as O2 has claimed.

Part of map of 3G coverage in UKI've been speaking to a number of telecoms analysts about the issue and I think I've got a better idea of what has gone wrong. Nearly 10 years after five operators paid a total of £22.5 billion for 3G licences, they have now built networks which give pretty good coverage across the UK, and in some cases at good speeds. Mind you, they were pretty slow off the mark, perhaps because after shelling out so much for licences there was little left in the kitty to roll out the networks.

What appears to be the problem is that while the coverage is quite good - and you can compare the networks with these Ofcom maps [667KB PDF] - the networks simply don't have enough capacity to deal with the flood of data that has suddenly arrived, first from the introduction of mobile broadband dongles and then from smartphones, in particular the iPhone.

It's as if they had built a national road network made up of single track lanes - and then found coachloads of holidaymakers all trying to head down the same track at once. One problem, according to my analyst friends, is that mobile operators know very little about marketing or consumer behaviour - so their early attempts to interest customers in using the mobile web were a bit of a flop. (Remember those adverts for 3G video calls?)

Then along came Apple, with the iPhone and the Apps Store, and both O2 in the UK and AT&T in the US suddenly found customers did want to update their Facebook, check out sports results, or play online games on the move. And if a lot of them were all doing it in one cell, the result was a traffic jam.

We discussed this issue this morning on Radio 4's Today programme, and Professor Peter Cochrane, the former BT chief scientist who's now a futurologist, came up with two possible solutions. First, femtocells - those unattractively named devices which function as a 3G booster in your own home. The industry loves this idea - after all it means getting your customers to improve the networks at their own expense. But so far, the operators have proved as inept at marketing femtocells as they were at selling 3G a decade ago.

Professor Cochrane's other idea - that the operators should share their networks - looks a more attractive solution. A number have already gone down that track - and of course T-Mobile and Orange are planning a complete merger. However, the competition authorities may not look too kindly though on the idea of one centralised 3G network.

But it's clear from your responses that the quality of an operator's network is becoming a key factor in choosing a mobile phone. The iPhone is now on three networks - O2, Orange and Vodafone - so we've got a live test of their capabilities. Prepare for battle...

UPDATE 1342: O2 have been in touch to point out that they are already sharing networks with Vodafone, following an agreement signed last March. Which begs another couple of questions - should O2 iPhone users put part of the blame for their problems on Vodafone, and what is the point of switching to Vodafone if you're unhappy with O2?

I put this to Vodafone - and here's what a spokesman told me:

"We share the physical infrastructure, not the clever stuff behind it which is used to adjust capacity. We don't have as wide coverage on 3G - we concentrate on building capacity where we see most smartphone use. We go for what we call the deep-pan approach rather than the thin and crispy service."

So it's not just about how many masts you have - it's about the software and systems used to manage the networks.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Just to add to the volume of complaints, yet another disgruntled O2 customers. I live in Richmond (which, despite being described as a London Borough on my Council Tax bills, isn't London according to O2, so isn't getting any extra investment). I end up playing silly games of (visual) voicemail tag with my friends in the area because our calls so rarely connect. That's if we can even dial out in the first place. I got so angry that I decided to call O2 about it. The deciding bit was easy. The calling bit wasn't. Call after call just failed. Eventually I got through and got an apologetic "Yes, the network's rubbish, we know, change your settings to 2G". I'm out of contract and so asked whether I'd be better switching to the iPhone on Orange or Vodafone. O2 of course refused to comment.

    When I tweeted about this (safely back in range of my WiFi), a friend said he'd managed to wangle a discount out of O2. Several others repeated the complaint that the iPhone is sadly unusable as a phone if you need to rely on being able to make and receive calls. Perhaps this is what Steve Jobs is about to announce later in January? The Apple iSlate is in fact just the iPhone rendered unusable as a phone thanks to poor networks.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes lack of capacity is and will be an issue. The fools in the marketing depatments were allowed to drive the data strategy and what happened was, like you say, stupid adverts for video calling and an assumption that paying customers would make do with walled gardens of controlled content where the operators would skim their share of profit from.

    Luckily, us customers are not quite so stoopid (sic) as to believe the original hype but we are sadly far too quiet to protest loudly when it all started breaking. I'm on T-Mobile and 'net access from my handset in London during the day is truly dire.

    Oh, complete side issue but for many handsets 2G connectivity uses less power and so the phone will default to the 2G network when it gets a choice. In the menus somewhere (on my Nokia it's under Connections) you can choose to only use the 3G / UMTS network sometimes and you can sacrifice battery for speed.

  • Comment number 3.

    I have had 3 iPhones (the original, a 3G and last week got an upgrade to the 3GS) for a while now on o2, and I have to admit the 3G coverage in my home and workplace has been great. I have just picked up my Wife's 3GS from the post office that is on Vodafone, so I'll be interested to see how these two identical phones shape up on different networks.

    The only difference is my iPhone is black, and hers is white... will that have any bearing? Watch this space... :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    I have the iphone 3gs on the Orange network, and just about everywhere i go, it has decent 3g coverage. The problem is with more and more so called smartphones coming onto the market, and the explosion of the use of the mobile dongles, all the networks in the uk just will not have the capacity to handle the amount of data use. I also cannot see them investing in upgrading the network with 4g just around the corner.

  • Comment number 5.

    Femtocells are an insane idea - why would I ever want to use my phone on a tiny 3G cell that routes the traffic over my home broadband connection, when any data heavy phone worth it's salt can just switch over to WiFi? WiFi access points are cheaper than femtocells, WiFi is faster than 3G, and using my WiFi doesn't burn my mobile data allowance - what's the downside?

  • Comment number 6.

    "pretty good coverage across the UK" - well, in London perhaps. I live on the outskirts of Aberdeen, and 3G coverage ends close to the city centre. If I travel to almost anywhere else, there is no coverage for miles. Yes, I know most of Scotland has low population density, but for to coverage to end before the edge of the city is ridiculous.

    Point to note - the OfCom maps are theoretical. Actual coverage varies greatly in

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm a vodafone customer.
    My coverage is lousy with 3g, losing signal then recovering all day long. My problem isn't bandwidth, it's getting a 3g signal in the first place - I live in London.
    Vodafone's first response is to tell you to switch the phone back to 2G - surely that's an admission that 3G is no good?
    Either the phone is rubbish or the network is - I pay good money so regardless of where the problem lies, it needs to be fixed.

  • Comment number 8.

    To comment 5, Ewan:
    The femtocells at least keep your mobile connected for calls and texts . . . though of course you are providing that connection by using up your ADSL connection/usage. But, as you say, for data you might as well use a wifi connection.

  • Comment number 9.

    In other industries, this level of demand would be seen a good thing. But in those industries, more demand normally means more revenue. In the mobile industry, income’s going down, not up. So operators are facing burgeoning demand with little prospect of additional revenue.

    Unless operators can cope with growth in data traffic by managing access to the network, eventually subscribers won’t be able to make a call or send a text. You can’t blame users, though. Operators have been generous with their data plans, and people have responded by using the data networks at an increasing rate. They’ve been encouraged by unlimited tariffs and free access to sites such as Facebook, even on prepaid plans.

    The gym business model is perfect for operators. Members feel great because they’re part of a gym, but they rarely use it. Gym owners rely on attracting far too many members for the equipment provided. If they all turned up at the same time, only a few of them could use the gym. Rarely have I been in a gym that busy.

    Networks will find it tough to tread a line between meeting demand without overloading their infrastructure and compromising users’ experience. But it’s becoming clear that operators that accomplish this most effectively in 2010 and beyond will have the edge.

  • Comment number 10.

    Another problem with femtocells is that they don't give people the backup that they buy 3G phones/dongles for: I live in the countryside and bought a 3G Vodafone dongle as a backup for when the landline/ADSL/electricity is down. But the 3G signal is non-existent and if either the electricity/ADSL are down, then the femtocall has no use whatsoever. If I want to connect my 3G dongle to my laptop in an emergency, I've got to get in my car and drive 20 miles to the nearest town. There is a 3G mast a mile from where I live, but it is useless, even if you go and park in its shadow.

    Saw on Rory's earlier thread that people mentioned finding good reception near mobile phone shops. . . . this is because a lot of shops have local booster units. When in Falmouth a few months back, I could only use my Vodafone dongle if I went and stood inside/outside the Vodafone store.

  • Comment number 11.

    This country is so far behind the rest of the world in mobile phone technology. Unfortunately, all of the phone operators want to charge high monthly tarrifs for 3G connectivity, but are not investing in their 3G networks. Also, we cannot blame the current global economic crisis for this lack of investment. Mobile phone operators have only ever invested in systems for making calls.
    Nokia, and all the other phone manufacturers, have been pushing out 3G phones for years. The phone operators have used their 3G networks to sell horrible ringtones and simple games for these phones. The resulting income again has not been invested back into the 3G networks.
    Now Apple's iphone is causing the phone operators a headache. It is extremely popular for its look and user interface and therefore to avoid losing customers the operators have to promote it. Unfortunately for the operators the money made from selling applications goes directly to Apple and the software developers. The phone operators have few opportunities for making money from the iphone. This results in a reduction in the available funds to invest in the 3G networks.
    So what is the solution: What are the 'push and pull' marketing strategies of the phone operators ?
    At a network level, Paul Cochrane's idea of sharing network capacity between operators is good. It will, however, only avoid operators losing customers. It will not increase their income. The competition between operators will mean the required level of network capacity sharing will not happen for another 10 years.
    I think the best, and only way, to improve and secure the income for phone operators, with the current technology, is to change the smartphone into a smartwallet. Get users to use their phone for all transactions, instead of cash or a credit card, and you have a way of holding customers into networks. The interest earned from customers that exceed their available funds can be invested in the networks. The sooner the phone manufacturers and operators find a way to do money transactions securily the better it will be for them and us the consumers.


  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with _Ewan_ (#5). Femtocells have to be one of the most half-assed ideas I've heard for a very long time. Why on earth would I want to boost my mobile coverage in my own home? I can access all the data I need via my PC, a wired network, and an ADSL connection while I'm at home. And if I want to make phone calls, I can do so quite happily from my landline.

    Surely the time you want good mobile coverage is when you're not at home.

  • Comment number 13.

    Are we now at the point where we should be considering the mobile networks as a national infrastructure and have just one of them, managed independently of the service providers, like we do with wired phones, electricity, gas, rail, etc.? That way we could avoid a lot of the duplication (or triplication, or...) currently in the network and maybe spend the same, or less, on a system that provides both better coverage and capacity?

  • Comment number 14.

    At the moment of writing there is a twitter topic highlighting users 3G Signal based on their locations around the UK. As part of my research I have built an interactive map showing the different levels of 3G Signal from these Twitter users. The map can be viewed here:

    https://www.casa.ucl.ac.uk/sjg/iPhone/

    In time, it may be very interesting to compare these crowd sourced results with the Ofcom Maps you linked to in your article.

  • Comment number 15.

    On the operators sharing their networks, T-Mobile and 3 had agreed to go down this path before the T-Mobile Orange merger was announced. As for regulatory acceptance of such a plan with an appropriate model, possibly hiving off the infrastructure to another company part owned by the operators, or a something along the lines of digitalregion.co.uk

  • Comment number 16.

    I think we're hitting the same situation as Train companies did in the early 20th century, they built the infrastructure and ran the trains and all were trying to provide coverage in the same areas leading to surplus equipment in some places and patchy coverage in other areas.

    The solution to this was to bring the control of the track under a separate company and allow operators to bid for licences to run on it.

    Why not do the same for the mobile phone network, one network, therefore full coverage on any operator.

    The differentiator providing competition between the Operators would then be on price, data allowance and attentive, intelligent customer service (something sorely lacking by most companies these days).

    The premise of the operating company is it would work solely on a not-for-profit basis, with all profits raised from the operators going on network improvements (capacity and coverage), maintenance and R&D of new technologies.

    This separation would also enable even greater fragmentation of the market and competition should it be desired as there wouldn't be a physical limitation on operating frequency bandwidth and massive start-up costs of putting a physical network in place.

    This company should however be run independently from government interference (as nationalisation never seems to work, how about looking to John Lewis for ideas on running a company... the NHS is!)

    (Please disregard the nationalisation of the rail networks and Dr Beeching in this analogy... I'm thinking of something a bit like Railtrack, independent of the state but separate from the operators)

  • Comment number 17.

    I've now used iPhone on both O2 and Orange over the last 2 months. The problems I have found have not been with the network but with the iPhone. The 3G signal on the iphone is far worse than on other handsets which can give the missed calls etc.

    Also if the phone connects to a 2G network because the iPhone cant pick up a 3G signal then it cannot handle voice and data at the same time. So if you are checking your email all calls will go to voicemail. My experience is that the O2 network is not as bad as some users say but it appears that way due to the poor signal on iPhone handsets. Orange and O2 have exactly the same problems on the iphone (different handsets) so it is not unique to one network.

  • Comment number 18.

    The problem is getting connected in the first place - why are there so many central areas with no coverage at all. I drive through the Woodford / Epping area in Essex every day and never ever get a signal for at least half of the journey. Why are there still so many NO GO areas ?

  • Comment number 19.

    O2's 3G network was rubbish *before* the iPhone came out. No doubt the iPhone hasn't helped, but O2 already had problems anyway.

  • Comment number 20.

    The idea that the "competition authorities may not look too kindly though on the idea of one centralised 3G network" is a bit of a reach; sharing infrastrure benefits the consumer without giving any one provider an advantage! The entire UK cellular network should be owned and operated by a third party - a NotForProfit outfit owned by the big providers and government - tasked to provide stability and connectivity across the nation. Just my 2Ps worth as a mobile telecoms engineer ;)

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm with O2.

    Never had any problems in the NW or when I have been in London.
    The town were I live has free WiFi access for those on the move.
    Coverage is excellent.

    -------------------------



  • Comment number 22.

    The 3g networks were always bound to fail in urban areas once users became numerous. I wrote about this on a Times blog ages ago. The bandwidth demands of people with 3g dongles on laptops, and sophisticated phones are very large and given the usual cell sizes, it is likely that base stations will be overwhelmed by users. You can check out the distance between base stations on the Ofcom, Site Finder link. Find it on google and put in the post code of the area of interest. If you check your own area you will likely find the 3g sites are pretty widely dispersed meaning hundreds of simultaneous users in cities. The only answer is to have a large number of pico cells in dense urban areas - maybe as many as one every other lamp post along the streets. If the domestic type 'femto cells' for people's homes catch on, I would recommend making them open to other users than those who house them. That way, most of the backbone demands fall on the broadband network that already exists. It would cost nothing in comparison to digging up the streets and setting up a large number of outdoor base stations. Users who house them could be compensated by having their broadband paid for by the 3g provider and being given increased bandwidth since they would not be the only users. Building outdoor networks is expensive. This method would be very cost effective and would produce revenue anyway in 3g charges.

    I'm surprised the companies didn't see this coming and deal with it before it became a crisis.

  • Comment number 23.

    @Cirrus - Exactly my point! It just requires the regulator to have some teeth and be prepared to do something the operators might dislike for the good of the consumer and competition :)

  • Comment number 24.

    Well Vodafone have made themselves look a bit silly in the last 48 hours and im sure it will continue. The managing director stated that they had this deep pan coverage and have been investing and upgrading the network for the last 12months link
    https://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/shanerichmond/100004465/o2-spends-30m-on-network-but-can-you-trust-them-with-your-smartphone/

    Yet now the Iphone has launched yesterday lots of Vodafone customers are having signal and network problems like network busy tones,dropped connections and no signal at so it looks like it was all PR spin lets hope that they do not have a big weekend marketing exercise saying the Iphone on UKS best network as could be left very red faced with more and more customers complaining

  • Comment number 25.

    Good 3G coverage? I live in South London and am lucky if I get a decent GPRS signal, let alone EDGE or 3G. Then, when I am in a area where I get a 3G connection, the data network will almost certainly be down. I'm on O2 and have the iPhone 3GS, BTW.

    I'll admit, though, that they have started to improve it in recent months. I'd still appreciate a 3G signal, though.

  • Comment number 26.

    The NY Times reported that the iPhone itself is largely responsible for faults commonly blamed on AT&T's 3G network, and contracturally
    https://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/business/13digi.html?_r=1

  • Comment number 27.

    The iPhone is definitely the culprit. Previous to the iPhone, O2 were not set up for any sort of sensible data plan. It was really the only reason that I got an iPhone, since it was a technology downgrade from my Nokia N95.

    I rang them up a couple of years ago to enquire about data, and I think they offered me 5MB (yes, MB) a month for £10, the woman the other end seemed astounded when I said that I was looking for 1GB per month and so I gave up.

  • Comment number 28.

    Rory,

    I heard you on the radio this morning complaining that you couldn't stream an intenet radio station when out walking your dog. Ever thought of buying a radio for this task? Not only would you be able to listen to the radio you'd be leaving bandwidth for others to use for tasks that actually require it.

  • Comment number 29.

    You will see from the coverage maps that "East Angular" is particularly poorly served. Some of the posters have said that phones will automatically change to 2G if there is no signal, or that you can select a 2G service from one of the menus in the phone. Under my contract with Hutchison (3) that menu option was not selectable on my phone (the scroll skipped straight past it), and when I asked why I was told that the firmware had been deliberately crippled. This meant that when I was not at work (in Central London) my phone was a brick (or slate, take your pick). We were about 12 miles from one of the tallest communication masts in Britain. All I wanted was a phone service, but even that was denied to me by 3 and I had to buy a second PAYG 2G Orange handset "for Norfolk".

  • Comment number 30.

    "first from the introduction of mobile broadband dongles and then from smartphones, in particular the iPhone." Rory Rory Rory: When will you end this obsession with iPhone and other things Apple. The iPhone has between 15 and 20% share of the UK smartphone market. RIM (Blackberries) and Symbian (Nokia) both far outstrip the iPhone in terms of sales. I'd also suggest that Blackberries in particular utilise a lot more bandwidth due to their use for business email which is far more lengthy (and has attachments) than personal emails on iPhones and Nokias.

  • Comment number 31.

    I live near Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush, and during peak times (evenings, weekends) I can no longer access 3G services, and if too near the shopping centre, I can't even make calls / send texts during those times. O2 have denied all possibility of there being a bottleneck with too many data users, even though shop in the "flagship store" have also agreed they can't use their phones during busy times.

    I recently spoke with 4 members of staff. 2 insisted it was a fault with phone, and 2 simply weren't interested.

    I am coutning down the days till the end of March when I can leave O2!

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm not sure why you suggest the quality of an operators network is suddenly becoming a factor in choosing a provider Rory, for many of us this has always been the case.

    For example, Orange etc. can't even get basic phone reception to my house, let alone 3G. In contrast, Vodafone gets me a full 5 bars for standard phone reception and even 3.5g right to my bedroom.

    When you're faced with a stark choice of having a phone that's little more use than a brick when you're at home, or a phone that flies along on the internet at 3.5g and gets excellent standard reception then it's pretty clear network quality always has to be a factor. Particularly as Orange have had over 10 years to rectify the lack of reception in my area but have failed to do so.

  • Comment number 33.

    There is a simple issue which you all have indicated clearly with your comments. The Handset makers are developeing products so much faster than the Networks are building there infrastructures. There is no common ground between them apart from the wish to make money. I presume the frequencies we are going to use for 4G are the same ones we are using for 3G and 3G+ so can we either finish building 3G (3g+) properely and at least give the country a decent mobile phone network for all. Or accept 3G is over, get on with 4G and get it right before its turned on.
    Maybe the main handset manufacturers need to sit down with the operators and decide on a way forward. Finally can we just all except that we use radio waves and we can never have a 100% coverage in all places at all times without an infrastructure that would cost more than we would ever be prepared to pay for on a month by month basis.

  • Comment number 34.

    With respect, I’d like to suggest that Peter Cochrane has missed an important point.

    Network sharing works if one is busy and one is empty. But if both are busy what good does it do? In your analogy if you get passengers to share a coach, that helps (a little bit) as long as the coaches are less than half full, but having one full coach use a tow rope to pull another won’t reduce traffic jams at all.

    The way to do that is build more roads: more basestations on hilltops. But that is really expensive, really slow and unpopular.

    Hence femtocells - private roads in a way. Then the people who want coverage get it: five-bar signal, crystal clear voice, screaming fast data. That is a lot more efficient and a lot easier than rebuilding the whole network.

    Ewan and others: it is clear that femtocells and WiFi complement each other and there is need for both. But a lot of people (a lot of comments on this blog) just want their phone to work: to make and receive calls. WiFi won't help. And unless you have a high-end phone (about 10% of the market) it doesn't have WiFi. Or (like me) it does have WiFi but I usually leave it off because it clobbers the battery. So for casual browsing I often use 3G, even at home or in the office - and a femtocell works nicely.

    Of course it is posible to work-around all these, but it is a hassle and most people just want their phone to work with no fuss. And that is precisely what a femtocell does.

    Incidentally, you mentioned ‘paying for femtocells’. Of course, in the end it is always customers who pay for the network. But it may be better to pay for something you directly benefit from rather than increased fees to upgrade the whole country?
    There are free femtocells, exactly as there are free handsets. https://shop.vodafone.co.uk/shop/latest-deals/gateway-offers

    I ought to declare an interest: I work for picoChip (develop the technology used in femtocells) and FemtoForum. So no surprise I see the benefits.

  • Comment number 35.

    The problem would seem to be that an in-demand, finite resource (mobile connectivity) has been given away by the mobile phone operators as part of a talk plan or for a generally small monthly fee. This has made it affordable to do things like stream a radio station to a mobile, rather than buy a portable digital radio. It's been feeding our addiction for wanting it all and wanting it now and we haven't had to suffer any pain in the process. Now though, with demand having reached a tipping point we are all suffering from each others excesses.

    The market economy provides the answer; an end to "unlimited" data quotas and a data price tag appropriate for the value of the resource being consumed.

  • Comment number 36.

    Rupert Baines @34 - you're clearly right that femtocells work for filling in gaps that exist even in basic 2G mobile coverage, but I was working on the (possibly over optimistic?) assumption that that's a mostly solved problem for most of the country, and the concern these days is about data, in which case I still think that WiFi has your femtocells beaten hands down.

    unless you have a high-end phone (about 10% of the market) it doesn't have WiFi

    Probably so, but it's those high end phones, like N900s, iPhones etc. that can usefully pull a lot of data, and they do have WiFi. People with less data intensive phones aren't going to be looking for high speed 3G access that's restricted to their houses.

    does have WiFi but I usually leave it off because it clobbers the battery

    There's something wrong with your phone. 3G traffic to a (more or less) distant cell tower is considerably more power hungry than WiFi to an access point a few metres away.

  • Comment number 37.

    The network operators are desperate to avoid being relegated to just being a bit pipe between their subscribers and the internet, but history says that is exactly what is going to happen to them. Under those circumstances they will find it difficult to increase their investment in coverage and bandwidth, getting the latter involves many base stations with lots of backhaul whereas they would like to have the opposite.

    As for WiFi vs UMTS power consumption, there are far greater opportunities for power saving in the 3G protocol and a lot more effort is expended by the development teams in achieving it. You have to do this to pass type approval tests whereas WiFi has a much less developed testing environment, it's done using a set of manufacturers access points to test against and these are not themselves guaranteed to meet the specification. There are a lot of workarounds used in WiFi devices to cope with the bugs in other manufacturers' products. It all adds up to additional power usage, and of course in a smart phone the 3G radio is usually operating all the time or you'll get no calls and texts so WiFi is additional not an alternative!

    Doubtless smartphones are going to become the norm, and then the network operators will be forced to act. Like many others, before Christmas in several shopping centres I found that O2 were struggling to supply sufficient bandwidth and even text messaging was failing in 3G coverage, I had to force 2G mode to get texts to go.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ _Ewan_ 36

    I suspect there's nothing wrong with the phone, it's well known that WiFi batters the battery on the handset. Tybiter (37) is right. Unlike the macro network there's no power control, no low power states and no access control and scheduling, so regardless of whether you're transferring data your handset is screaming like a baby at the Wireless AP. You're also likely to be sharing a channel with several other users in a city meaning interference is higher.

    Plus if you're relying on WiFi for data because of poor coverage, you're probably equally hamstrung on voice and SMS, which only a Femto can offer you. Now the aforementioned power savings really kick in. Instead of using 2 radios (WiFi and HSPA desperately looking for a macro cell) you just have the HSPA radio using the least power possible to talk to a base station a few metres (not 100's or 1000's of metres) away. If the mobile operator gives you a low/flat-rate for home usage, in recognition of providing your own coverage, you can forget about paying extra minutes on your mobile or £5 per month for calls with BT.

    That said, if people want decent coverage and throughputs when out of the house, they need to stop complaining about new 'masts' going up. While OfCom tries to restrict spectrum re-farming for the operators in a vain effort to extract more cash in the next round of Spectrum auctions (for spectrum unusable until 2013 and 2014) the only option is a more dense deployment of mobile sites, whether shared with another operator or not.

    And finally, it was pretty disingenuous of O2 to claim that they shared a network with Vodafone - implying Vodafone's 3G Network was no better - when at most they share a few electric meters, steel towers and shelters. O2s Finnish network is much poorer and clunkier than Vodafone's Swedish one!

  • Comment number 39.

    I agree with post number 9 - operators have no incentive to spend on their network if there is no increase in revenue stream (I'm not saying I agree with the poor service they offer). One route that could be taken to change this (although it wouldn't be popular) is for users to be charged for usage and all 'unlimited' data access contracts are phased out. This would mean that revenues would increase with increased usage and hence it is in the operators interest to increase capacity. With the current contracts the networks will become more and more clogged and effectively useless.

  • Comment number 40.

    I've suddenly noticed that I cant get calls in my work/live place in London now. Sometimes I get no service at all or two bars at best. The reception was bad in this place for a while but the past two days its been unbearable. People cant actually speak to me over the phone.

    I called O2 and went to the O2 shop to change my sim as they said it could be my old sim but its the same thing. I said if you cant provide me with a decent service then that's a breach of contract but they say if you check your contract it says that they cant guarantee that you can get signal indoors. This is ridiculous. And totally unacceptable.

    My client came in yesterday with her iPhone on orange and had great reception.

    They said if I want to leave I'll have to pay for the two years line rental which would be £1000 odd pounds..

    Will someone please go get the vaseline cause this is hurting now....

  • Comment number 41.

    Ah, Rory. Yet another post glorifying the iPhones - you're better at marketing them than Apple. It's a bit sad. But, seriously speaking, I was with O2 in London for years with various HTC smartphones, and only ever had issues at the Emirates Stadium (60,000 phones in the same place predictably overloads the network). However, I've been in Cambridge for a while now and, while O2's 3G coverage is fairly limited, the lack of any sort of coverage in some parts of the city is a much bigger problem. I've tried complaining, but they insist that they have 3G signal pretty much everywhere in Cambridge. And I can rule out phones being the problem, as I have two different HTCs here (both of which have signal problems), and I know people with iPhones who have the same signal problem.

  • Comment number 42.

    I previously commented on the origional post the other day. I am an iPhone 3GS user on O2, I'm actually using it to write this but that's beside the point. Anyway, I was previously on 3 for 2 years before June 2009. I left to get the iPhone and while I love this phone I would have to say that if it were not for Nokia's lack of imagionation with their latest phones I probably would have chosen a Nokia and stayed with 3! I live in Norfolk and as you have Seen from other posts we are probably the worded covered county in the UK, 3G is predominantly limited to cities and main towns on O2, vodafone have a fair bit and Orange are 'coming up behind' but I have to say that 3 have the largest 3G network in the UK and they cover the upstairs of my house, which is good considering I live in the countryside. I'm pretty sure that O2 only just qualify for a 3G network, from industry standards agency, and as far as I'm concerened 3 are the only network that are plowing money into their existing 3G network, mainly in the south, they are upgrading their capacity and speed to upto 7mbps. O2 spent too long on their EDGE and vodafone on their 2G- 99.97%. I think that instead of recruiting new technologies, such as the introduction of mobile broadband, and realling in more customers, to dissapoint, they need to worry about satisfying their existing ones. The iPhone hungers to be unleashed on a REAL 3G/HSDPA network, the same goes for every other smartphone, mobile broadband customers and the new ‘Superphones’ such as the Nexus one, in which I'm dreading to see the effects it's UK release will have on the already buckeling networks, as far as I'm concerned. The networks are sercoming to the same fait as the other 'first technologies of Britain' I.e we were one of the first for a decent train service, now terrible, one of the first for a BT Internet service, of which the majority is overloading on the telephone lines and now with 3G, EDGE and 3.5G! As oppose to places such as china and Korea that introduced these after us and of whom, started out with better technology than our current! This country needs to revolutionise again!!!!!! Before it's too late

  • Comment number 43.

    I am at the flip-side to iPhone users in London. I live in the Highlands of Scotland and although we have full 2G coverage in our town, the 3G signal is non-existent. There is a small patch of full 3G in the industrial estate of the town but only reaches a few 100 yards. I have called O2 about this and they say that as its a rural area (5,000 population in town) then it is not a priority. I understand this but there is quite a few people with iPhones and Blackberries about that would use 3G if it was here. O2 need to learn to speculate to accumulate.

  • Comment number 44.

    Rory,

    Yes, the are two parts to this problem; Network coverage and data capacity. Network coverage should not be underestimated because it includes problems in areas where there appears to be coverage, such as indoors. This is usually where consumers experience their signal dropping from HSDPA/3G capability, to 2.5G or something. And this is the problem that Femtocells were meant to provide a solution for. They are meant to provide all mobile services, i.e a continuation from what is available outdoors, not just data, as some have inaccurately mentioned above.

    As for capacity, while there are OFCOM guidelines for voice to avoid congestion, I am not sure there are any guidelines for mobile data. If there aren't any, consumers may have to use their power to influence things, as they did with ISPs. Operators cannot forever hide behind some small print.

    Yes, operators spent big money on 3G licenses, but it was their speculation that hyped up the technology, not consumers. Now that consumers and application developers have signed on, smart phones will only demand more data use, not less.

  • Comment number 45.

    I have been with O2 with an iphone 3G for 18 months. The coverage at home (rural Berks) is terrible on any format though apparently that is due more to geography and living on top of a hill than capacity.
    In London where I work, despite often showing full 3G coverage, phone functions such as calls, SMS/MMS and voicemail fail to function. Even when visual voicemail (which needs a data connection) fails and tells you to cal 901, this often fails too.
    I unlocked my phone and tried Orange 3G for a few days - worse at home and no better in London.
    Canary Wharf was horrendous with O2 for 6 months before Xmas, though seems to have improved since.
    A single centrally managed backbone network like the national landline network would have made so much more sense though probably would not have resulted in the very competitive pricing consumers now get. Network providers need to be incentivised to increase the capacity and the only way that will happen is if they can increase revenue from each other or consumers.

  • Comment number 46.

    Looking at all those coverage maps, it's blatantly obvious that there are too many white spaces on them - and those white spaces are largely the same on all networks - if you compare that with fixed broadband, it wouldn't shock me to discover that the 3G white spaces correspond largely with the broadband notspots - if the 3G people could pull their fingers out and extend their coverage (they already have the masts and interconnects - so they only need the transmitters) even at a lower density level than they need in cities, they'd quite possibly get a flood of customers.

  • Comment number 47.

    All of these mobile phone and internet problems were (should have been) obvious from the start of 2G, 2.5G and 3G. These are set up as 'phone systems' with data added on. The fallacy of looking for killer new products to generate revenue required that nobody actually used the new products, but paid for them, for the phone companies to make money. 3G was, and is, a gigantic waste of a licence fee. When will we get 4G phones in the UK Other countries already have them so why not us? Like mpeg2 DAB radio and 2 MB Broadband our phone systems may have multiple vendors but we are behind the times and being forced to generate revenue to pay for billion pound historic licences rather than the service we need (and other countries already have!)

    The fact is that the structural design architecture of the mobile phone system is not suited to the way which people want to use data (or heaven help the operators view TV programmes!). There is no easy or cheap solution for the phone companies.

  • Comment number 48.

    I am on O2 with a iPhone 3G and live in london.

    Personally whenever I have tried to use the data network, it has worked perfectly. Only problem I seem to have is incoming calls like going to voicemail!

    I do believe that as O2 acknowledge that there is a problem, we should get a discount. I am missing calls and the way that Visual Voicemail works, you don't get notified about voice messages!

    First and foremost its a phone!

  • Comment number 49.

    I keep seeing people complaining about the state of our mobile phone networks and yet you all keep on paying for the service, or lack of, that you are getting.

    There is a lesson to be learnt here - you don't get anywhere buy carrying on with paying for a service your not getting and/or instantly jumping on the bandwagon of new technology when existing or older technology will suffice (I'm looking at all the people who jumped at the chance of getting an iPhone 3GS but now find it's not working as it should).

    If you have issues with the mobile phone networks, then stand up to the companies who run then and tell them that you're unhappy by hitting them where it hurts, in their pockets.

    If they see their customers not paying up and if enough people do it, then perhaps attitudes towards customers might just change in the mobile communications industry.

    Until that happens the UK's mobile phone companies will just carry on taking customers money and not delivering on the service they claim you will get.

  • Comment number 50.

    I don't know about O2 and Vodafone sharing networks. Here in Petersfield, Vodafone have excellent 3G coverage, as do T-Mobile, Orange and 3, but O2 can only manage GPRS.

  • Comment number 51.

    I have lived in Richmond and have used different 3G networks here (3, O2, Orange etc). Whereas I could use a 3G USB modem and could make decent 3-Skype calls last September (even when the reception was never great) the networks became unusable shortly before Christmas. It seems that the additional traffic from the 3G data services filled up the network and as 3G cell sizes shrink with the transmission load (this effect is named "cell breathing"I fell out of the coverage.
    As data transmission became impossible I switched operator but it took me an hour to register me on the new one but cold never actually use the service. Also 3 and Skype had repeated drops during busy hours but performed better late evening.
    My conclusion from my experience? Transmission quality is "best effort" only and you better don't rely on the service. Or you take your equipment to the next pub with a better reception and do what you want to do there - spoiling the transmission for all unlucky people at the fringes of the network.

  • Comment number 52.

    Looks like the solution is simple... ban the iPhone!

    Not only will the 3G networks work perfectly...

    ...but we'll save a fortune in 'net access charges reading about it incessantly (both here and elsewhere)

    ;^D

  • Comment number 53.

    Not sure if this has already been mentioned, but I can definitely see the benefits of a femto cell, if priced correctly. The main plus over using Wifi is that the battery life of the phone will be much better than if you used wifi. You will be able to get your regular calls, sms etc with any extra configuration. You don't have to sit down and type in wifi keys etc, it will just work. What they need to do though is make it attractive to the consumer. Cheap data/free call packages when at home, now that is what is needed!

  • Comment number 54.

    Mobile data is fundamentally crippled by available spectrum. Multiply a small number of MHz available to an operator (say 10 or 20) by a smaller number of Mbits/s per MHz that the technology can deliver (say 2 to 4) and you have the total capacity for a given location. Divide by all the users and the answer is depressing.

    Add to this picture lusers using data to stream radio and it's all bad. Get a phone with FM radio capability, FFS !

  • Comment number 55.

    I am so grateful to see this subject discussed. I have complained to o2 on a couple of occasions about call failure and network errors and customer service have always told me that I must be suffering from a hardware fault as no one else has complained. I currently use an iPhone 3GS and still suffer the same call failures that I did with my Sony Ericsson's no matter what part of the country I am traveling through. It is unfair for o2 to just blame the handset vendors and cause products to be returned. After reading this I have contacted o2 to have a moan, waiting for a response.

  • Comment number 56.

    I agree that the issue is with the iphone. I work for one of the big telecoms companies and during tests it has been proved that the iphone generates 30 times the amount of network traffic then any other smartphone (Nokia N95, Blackberry etc). By that I don't mean the data that the users are downloading/viewing but just the signally between the phone and the network. So it is easy to see why networks could be crippled by this device.

    O2 and Vodafone DO NOT network share. Currently all Vodafone and O2 do is share mast locations. This means that their equipment could be within the same building and will besharing the same mast, but both companies have their own equipment there to handle the calls, and both will have there own transmission links back to their own exchanges.

    So the questions that this brought up:-

    should O2 iPhone users put part of the blame for their problems on Vodafone - No because they only share physical location and mast. nothing more.

    and what is the point of switching to Vodafone if you're unhappy with O2 - because they are still different networks, with different coverage, and different backhaul networks.

    Which is the best, I feel only time will tell.

  • Comment number 57.


    I cannot see how Femtocells would help, have you seen how overloaded most ISPs
    broadband is these days. I can barely get a workable BBC IPlayer connection at
    peak times despite living near a BT exchange in a major south coast city centre location.

    This is a classic feature of UK commercial activities. The companies arguably
    paid too much for their spectrum license and then tried to roll out 3G networks on the cheap. They have been playing catchup every since. To try and push this capacity back onto the fixed network via femtocells is the act of a desperate industry.

    There are solutions out their in the form of Wimax and increasing rollout of Wifi hotspots or perhaps LTE if the companies can find the investment.

  • Comment number 58.

    i live on the outskirts of Glasgow and have 2 cells covering my home address 3g on the Glasgow cell no g on the other.

  • Comment number 59.

    @ SotonBlogger (57).

    Perhaps the UK operators paid too much for the 3G Spectrum, but since 4 of the 5 were existing UK operators, what were they supposed to do in the auction, pull out, close the doors and stop trading?

    WiMax (small number of devices and needs the same new spectrum as the existing operators want released) and WiFi (no new spectrum availble and as an open resource prone to interference from pure mass usage and inferior devices e.g. Video Senders) will not be our saviours in gaining more spectrum or making better use of it. Thar will only come from a change to the Government's perception that mobile phone users are a piggy bank to be raided whenever they feel the desire. I say users, rather than operators or their shareholders, as ultimately the costs are added to tarrifs.

    BT and VM have not paid a levy for the right to operate a fixed network in the UK, but they stand to be benficiaries of the £6 Broadband Tax. The bankers do not pay a levy to trade in HM Treasury's £ Sterling, yet they get a bail-out. Let the spectrum be allocated on a fair basis, with commitments to spend the 'auction' money on a rapid and universal rollout of more capacity.

  • Comment number 60.

    I have had a Nokia N95 8GB, on O2, supposedly 3G enabled. Only once in 18 months has it picked up a 3G signal: in Dublin, where of course I couldn't use it for cost reasons!
    Having said that, the standard 2G mobile web is sufficient for my needs, at home I connect it onto my house Wi-Fi.

    Unfortunately however, since moving house to between Streatham and Pollard's Hill I have hardly any signal of any kind at home!

    Will be switching to Orange soon, my contract is just up.

  • Comment number 61.

    Network sharing has been around for a decade- initially deploying new 3G networks jointly as a means of sharing the new deployment cost and risk. We are now entering the second phase of infrastructure sharing with consolidation of existing networks along the lines of the MBNL project starting to emerge. What is interesting is that in this second phase the mobile companies are starting to be a lot smarter about the infrastructure that they share and the reasons for doing so.
    The challenge for the industry is that there is under capacity in some areas and yet other areas where there is over-capacity and uneconomical infrastructure. With the newer generation of much smaller and efficient network equipment, sharing has a role to play in both under and over capacity areas. A big part of the problem is getting the right sites and sharing has a role here too.
    I cannot see femptocells catching on as they currently stand - it is a technology solution looking for a problem with little real consumer benefit.

    Of course there is a historical parallel - remember how Freeserve upset the ISP market a decade ago - the solution was to re-engineer the connectivity economics and this is now happening in mobile.

  • Comment number 62.

    With all the talk of Femtocells I'm surprised no one has mentioned UMA/GAN technology. This basically enables a WiFi smartphone to route all voice calls, text messages and data via the Internet. It works well and does not require the additional hardware of Femtocells. Of course the smartphone has to support the feature in software, which for example several BlackBerry models do but not the iPhone. Hopefully this will come with the forthcoming iPhone OS 4.0.

  • Comment number 63.

    On the day Vodafone issued pre-ordered IPhones to customers, my 3G signal suddenly recovered having been offline since Christmas Eve. I’d love to know the why’s and wherefore’s of this, but it may remain forever one of those little mysteries. Chilworth is grateful though Vodafone - better late than never. They had and are now again our digital saviour due to lack of ADSL for most, no cable for half the village & poor reception for all mobile carriers apart from Vodafone. I can imagine that in a relatively affluent area such as this there where shed-loads of 3G users before IPhone let alone now. I still had to restore my old and slow ADSL line though as I couldn’t be sure the service would come back…

  • Comment number 64.

    I've been a telecomms engineer for most uk operators for over 10 years and seen the networks grow from 2G up to 3.5G (HSPA). Interestingly there never was any 'killer app' that networks wanted - until dongles and smartphones came along.

    I have an iphone on O2 simply because they are only network with coverage at my home. Personally having used all 5 networks and worked on 4 I can say that O2 are the worst (when I worked there and still now).

    The problem of capacity is due to the demands of data, but I can assure all readers that networks are definately aware and doing a lot to improve services. I should know - I'm doing it!

    I know people will think this is an excuse but the reality is that more coverage & capacity requires more masts that councils will not allow to be built. Plain and simple. How many people who complain of coverage/capacity have campained against new sites or alternatively spoke to their councils about it?
    Upgrading current equipment is not always easy and can take time due to contractual agreements with the site providers.

    As already stated more picocells would help massively. But whatever type of mast be it macro, micro, pico or femto - networks need to be allowed to build them as I said.

    Next gen 4G networks will more likely be LTE as these have been chosen more by the vendors like nokia. Networks are already running in Sweden and will be available at winter olympics soon. These will offer much better rates - practically about 20meg I recon (100meg max in theory) but i don't know when they'll be introduced in the UK.

  • Comment number 65.

    Networks cost money.

  • Comment number 66.

    I agree with richierich on post 64. How many people have complained about coverage and capacity but yet also complained about new sites being built near their homes. At the end of the day it is the way we live. In a connected world, and the demand is growing. From everyone who uses a mobile. It is better to have full signal on your phone when making a call than bad signal. Cos when your phone has no/bad signal its workin harder and giving a little bit more radiation than when one has full signal. I'd happily have a mast in my street. But these Home 3G base stations from vodafone is heaven sent for me!

  • Comment number 67.

    The capacity of 3G networks in the UK is limited and the success of the iPhone and its data-hungry applications is clearly creating a problem for mobile users across the country. Rolling-out LTE networks would address this problem, but event the most optimistic prognosis recognises that a nationwide LTE network is still years away and will require significant investments. Meanwhile, the capacity crunch is only going to increase, causing more disruption to consumers, who sometimes will even be prevented from making a simple voice call.

    There is a need to rethink the way we allocate existing capacity. Flat plans have become the rule for data-hungry phones like the iPhone, creating no incentive for users to monitor their behaviour. Why not make it cheaper for phone owners to use bandwidth-rich applications at times of the day when the network is not constraint? Or make it easier for them to download videos over WiFi instead of streaming them over the cellular network? Not long ago we all accepted the fact that calls made during peak-time were more expensive than calls in the evening or during the weekend. But when it comes to data-hungry applications, where that would make even more sense, this idea has become a taboo – why?

    Creating tailored services and differentiated plans could help consumers save on their phone bills and motivate them to adapt their use, optimising the way the network is utilised. Network operators need to put parameters in place so that all consumers receive the network performance guaranteed in their contracts. But for that to happen, they need to rethink their pricing strategy.

  • Comment number 68.

    Why go femto cell? WiFi is a mature technology that is in most peoples homes and places of work. Public WiFi is thin on the ground in the UK (despite having one of the worlds highest densities per capita) mainly due to the operators here positioning it as an expensive business user product. Place a large volume of public WiFi hotspots in the country (that all the cellular operators can buy access to) and you have a workable solution. Better still you are not restricted to devices with cellular capability (as you are with femto) - any WiFi device can use it - of which there are tens of millions in the UK. Any cellular device that has the ability to use high speed 3g data will almost certainly have WiFi already anyway.

    Even better is the economics are so much better than cellular that the network can be built free to end user, and the cellular operators can enable seamless access to this network for devices (just like the iPhone does).

    One of the reasons it hasnt worked well here to date is the existing wifi operators have made it too expensive for the cellular operators AND their networks have been pretty flakey. reliability is vital.

    All the above has been happening to some extent (see McDonalds). But really you need 30-40k+ commercial WiFi hotspots in the UK that can do this. Not in business locations, but all over the country in the centre of communities for consumers.

    There are some operators starting to address this (such as ours freerunr.com). Its needed, urgently.

  • Comment number 69.

    I've had problems with my iPhone connecting calls that I make from time to time and friends iPhones have also failed to connect to myine from time to time. Text messages are a cause of frustration too sometimes as about 15% of the time they won't send and as any iPhone user will tell you, you can't cancel a message send until it times out on the fail. I blame this on the network as my phone never used to do this until maybe 4-5 months ago, when I'm guessing the network got alot busier with more and more people joining O2.

  • Comment number 70.

    The problem with a lot of the networks base stations is how they are connected back to switching centres to connect calls and put data onto the web. Quite a few base stations use ADSL connections which with the increase in data and voice use is no longer suitable for the job, some networks are upgrading the backhauls/connections to Ethernet which is generally what Vodafone use for their upto 7.2mb enabled service

  • Comment number 71.

  • Comment number 72.

    I have Orange 3G (supposedly) ... at home, outdoors as well as indoors, I get incredibly poor signals, there are very specific locations around my home where I can get one or two bars and so I have to leave my phone there to receive texts, but dare not answer any calls because as soon as the phone moves the signal is lost.

    When I go into town, I get a full 3G signal ... but can't get onto the network, calls won't connect, texts fail, internet drops ... I phoned to complain and they basically told me to switch to 2G and quit complaining 'cos they never made any guarantees about 3G anyway! ... When so much of their advertising revolves around interactive services and the new iPhone how can they just back off from any responsibility for providing you with a 3G network that you can actually use?!

    Why would a shared network cause monopoly/competition issues? Why can't it work in exactly the same way as gas, electric, landline phone services, and train services ... they are all examples of services that basically use the same physical network (ie. the same gas comes through your pipes no matter who your gas company is!) but compete on price and customer service.

    A unified independent mobile network whereby the physical infrastructure of ALL the mobile networks is combined into a single maximum coverage network operated by an independent company (the Network Rail of the mobile world, if you like!) with individual operator services provided over the entire network.

  • Comment number 73.

    As expected Vodafone are suffering from network congestion with the Iphone now on the network along with all the other traffic I heard from a Vodafone employee that since the iphone launch data usage had gone up over 120% some to be expected as 50,000 units sold on launch with quite a few joining the network always going to be more of a strain but also as the Iphone likes eating data for fun and people keen to play on new toys. It is now having an effect on voice with some customers reporting the dreaded 3 bleeps network busy message as the core network and base stations can not cope. Its just a shame that Vodafone went public before launch saying how their network would be fine as they had the capacity which obviously they have not

  • Comment number 74.

    I read the article with interest but wanted to highlight some of the challenges faced by network operators when planning and optimising their 3G networks. First of all the traffic does not stay in a single location, at 9am in the morning in London one imagines that the traffic will be focussed on the major railway stations however by 10am the profile is hugely different with most users inside and in their offices. Where the likes of BT and other fixed telcom operators are able to provide dedicated lines to dedicated locations mobile operators must provide ubiquitous coverage (and quality) in all locations where a customer goes with a mobile - this is a huge challenge when one thinks of the morphology of major cities like London, Manchester, Bristol and indoor and outdoor experiences.
    With the advent of the iPhone and smartphones in general into the 3G networks in the first quarter of last year the demand for high data rate services sky-rocketed. The US, now a more developed telecoms market than Europe, has key cities where it is not uncommon to see data connections significantly exceeding voice by a ratio of 2:1. Operators recognise this and are spending to catch their networks up to a point at which they're able to deal with what the customers are demanding. It's rather like all the taps in the UK being opened at the same time but the pipes not being big enough to cope. Pipes for mobile network operators are limited by spectrum, number of sites and transmission from the sites back to the core network, and to get the most from each of them is not an immediate solution.
    What all the operators are doing is investing though - AT&T in the US are spending billions of dollars to solve performance issues in markets like New York and San Fransisco and O2 in the UK recently announced 500million GBP investment into it's network to cope with the additional load. This has got to be a good thing for us as consumers - however we also have to accept that upgrading or adding new infrastructure takes time and that the target that the operators are shooting for is always moving - because of the changing traffic patterns and each new iPhone app and smart phone released onto the market that requires yet more data throughput.
    Obviously pricing for services is one strategy and there is some talk in the industry of offering guaranteed service quality for customers prepared to pay for a more expensive service plan, but, because of the nature of radio as a delivery mechanism for the signal it'd be rather like trying to offer CD quality sound on a AM radio. So this plan is somewhat limited in it's application.
    The better approach is for the operators to understand more about what the customers require and when and where they require it and to use this information to focus these large capital sums in a way where they get the maximum return on their investment.
    I work for a UK based company called Arieso that does precisely this. We work with mobile operators around the world and are currently helping to solve some of these high profile issues in the most congested markets. Our innovative technology allows mobile operators to pinpoint where iPhone users are dropping calls, where data is not delivered fast enough to devices and where coverage or quality holes exist.
    The iPhone changed the way we use our mobile telecoms services, the operators are still in catch up, but there are some very smart solutions assisting them to provide the best quality of service they can for their customers.

  • Comment number 75.

    I am a '3' dongle user and live in a very well known Yorkshire East coast town. When I first moved there early in '09 my dongle worked really well where I was living but ONLY in the upper floor of the house! I've since had a house move and the coverage is very different at less than half the signal level. Non the less my data transfer (incoming) varies from zero to senveral thousand kbps! Mostly at the low end due to high traffic demand. I visited my local '3' store who told me there was soon to be a new mast to be installed some 500yds/M from my home location, and this would put me back on track!
    I'm not so sure.... I paid a whacking £95.00p for my dongle and thinking they would be thin on the ground at that cost then data transfer would not be a problem but oh dear me how wrong can you be... through the summer time one of the cut price stores began offering them at a shade below £20.00p
    If the real problem is the amount of traffic/data being loaded on to the system then if my home was surrounded by masts it still wouldn't work any better......
    I also asked why my PC can send but not receive data and this is apparently because the bandwidth is split 80/20ish in favour of sending rather than receive.why is that? does anyone have an answer? That sent data is using up my credit for one way data transfer that I have no control over.
    I have even tried to connect and found NO data transfer in either direction OR had plenty of everything and STILL couldn't connect.
    WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON OUT THERE IN CYBER SPACE AND JUST WHAT AM I PAYING FOR..................................DOH!!!

  • Comment number 76.

    Just adding a little more here ok
    I would like to earn a living by working on line and is it a possibility considering the data traffic jam. I have a friend who is hard wired to the internet, phone line, modem all the usual gubbins and right through Christmas and new year '09/'10 (The school holidays) her 'net access was curtailed. Not even slowed down but totally stopped due to the system being overloaded! What chance do you have with mobile anything. I have tried to use my dongle at 2,3,4,5,6,in the morning some days and really struggled.
    Can't wait for the new mast to show up...I'll be the one sat next to it in a garden chair with my laptop, ha ha!

  • Comment number 77.

    I have just seen that watching a 3minute You tube video on your mobile uses the same amount of data on the network as sending 2000 texts. As previous comments have said mobile networks in the UK need to take urgent action to try and solve these issues. I think the main priority should be to get all urban and busy rural base stations connected to the core network by ethernet rather than ADSL which is now no longer up to the job.
    I just wonder how the Vodafone network is going to cope in Feb/March when they launch the Google Nexus one phone which from what I have been told is an even more data intensive phone than the I phone due to it near constantly being connected to Google services and hidden syncs

  • Comment number 78.

    I spent months trying to get a cancellation from Vodafone regarding their abysmal 3g coverage in NE Hampshire. I took up a deal through The Link offering a free mini laptop with 3g contract with Vodafone (18 month contract). When I agreed to take out the offer i was told both by The Link & Vodafone that I had "excellent coverage" in my area having given them my postcode. However when I got the laptop up and running i found i had NO 3g coverage at all, in fact i barely had GPRS. I then had to go through the most awful buck passing and at times downright aggressive so called customer service I have ever experienced. The maps used by these companies to show the coverage are totally inaccurate and are misleading customers. I found out eventually having been told at one point that I had excellent 'outdoor' coverage that in fact their own maps showed that I had no 3g in my area, incidentally Vodafone's coverage map doesn't work with safari, so much for apps! I was lucky in that I got my contract cancelled and thanks mainly to the guys who run their online forum where there were many more complaining about the same thing. The 3g situation in this country is a joke, it is allowing the likes of Vodafone, O2 etc to rip people off by not providing the service the are advertising and as OFCOM told me, it's "nothing to do with them" The whole 3g network is a farce especially outside London.

  • Comment number 79.

    The fundamental problem is availability of spectrum to carry the increasing traffic. The networks are already or are becoming full with the proliferation of smartphones. 3G frequencies have poor penetration into houses and ultimately more high quality spectrum is the only solution. 3G coverage is poor as a result of the laws of physics and an over zealous chancellor 10 years ago. It is only going to get worse tablet computers and an always on 'Cloud' connection (oh boy!)

    There is plenty of spectrum in the TV bands with the advent of the digital dividend. Link this to potentially ground breaking 'whitespace' access techniques and that might be a solution to the increasing demand.

    Don't knock the network operators too much. They had to pay a small fortune to the government for the existing 3G spectrum - they need to recover their investment before they make another huge committment to additional 3G or 4G infrastructure or maybe you, the user, have to pay more. That after all is what happens to a commodity when it becomes scarce.

  • Comment number 80.

    The network will not change in just a few years, 3G Operators have the URGENCY to Off Load traffic NOW otherwise the problem is starting to get pretty serious.

    STEP 1: What to do NOW?
    Offload to WiFi. Why WiFi? Most of this saturation comes from activity of the smartphones inside Offices and Homes were you actually DO HAVE Wifi and those smartphones DO HAVE WiFi ASIC too. People don't go walking on the street watching movies on their iPhone, they do it at home/office.
    Easy 3G to WiFi Data handover for those devices is key and Telcos partnering with WiFi Network/Device technology experts like FON will save them not just millions on 3G Data Traffic cost but also on Churn of unhappy Data users.

    STEP 2: Get Ready for the Future Demand
    Who is going to start investing heavy now on LTE/TD-LTE when all independent studies show that LTE/TD-LTE bandwidth will still NOT be enough to cope with the demand of Wireless Data Traffic in 5 years? The issue is the underneath technology. There are already Physical Layer solution like GCMs OTDM Technolgy that can increase orders of magnitude the LTE performance using the same Spectrum and are only used for Military Equipment because the STANDARDS take to long to embrace those new technologies. On today's financial situation we are forced to become more agile also on the Telco industry and help speed up the adoption of new technologies. This is the only way for the whole system behind the Telco industry is sustainable both for users and technology professionals.
    Disclose: I was CTO at FON Wireless and I am VP of Technology at GCM.
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 81.

    The network will not change in just a few years, 3G Operators have the URGENCY to Off Load traffic NOW otherwise the problem is starting to get pretty serious.

    STEP 1: What to do NOW
    Offload to WiFi. Why WiFi? Most of this saturation comes from activity of the smartphones inside Offices and Homes were you actually DO HAVE Wifi and those smartphones DO HAVE WiFi ASIC too. People don't go walking on the street watching movies on their iPhone, they do it at home/office.
    Easy 3G to WiFi Data handover for those devices is key and Telcos partnering with WiFi Network/Device technology experts like FON will save them not just millions on 3G Data Traffic cost but also on Churn of unhappy Data users.

    STEP 2: Get Ready for the Future Demand
    Who is going to start investing heavy now on LTE/TD-LTE when all independent studies show that LTE/TD-LTE bandwidth will still NOT be enough to cope with the demand of Wireless Data Traffic in 5 years? The issue is the underneath technology. There are already Physical Layer solution like GCMs OTDM Technolgy that can increase orders of magnitude the LTE performance using the same Spectrum and are only used for Military Equipment because the STANDARDS take to long to embrace those new technologies. On today's financial situation we are forced to become more agile also on the Telco industry and help speed up the adoption of new technologies. This is the only way for the whole system behind the Telco industry is sustainable both for users and technology professionals.

    Disclose: I was CTO at FON Wireless and I am VP of Technology at GCM.

  • Comment number 82.

    I hope i set up a Picocell, i cant wait to sniff all your data traffic rocketing across my malicious wireless point :D

 

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