Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 09:12 UK

Mobile broadband notspots mapped

Woman using laptop on Primrose Hill
Mobile data networks are a boon for increasing numbers

There are still significant notspots when it comes to 3G mobile coverage in the UK, regulator Ofcom has revealed.

It has pledged to investigate why some places, particularly in rural areas, are still failing to get any coverage.

It also said it will investigate mobile broadband speeds, which vary tremendously in different areas and at different times of day.

Between February 2008 and February 2009 there were two million new connections to mobile broadband, said Ofcom.

3G (or Third Generation) services allow people to connect to the web via a wireless network, either using a phone, a dongle or datacard which can be plugged into a PC or a laptop.

In the UK such services are offered by operators such as Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile and 3.

But there are questions about how reliable these services are and whether they can provide the speeds needed by consumers.

More spectrum

Research from broadband communications firm Epitiro recently found that the average download speed achieved with mobile broadband was just under 1Mbps (megabit per second).

if mobile networks are going to become one of the key routes to the internet for million of users, they're going to need to build more six-lane highways to replace those B-roads where the traffic keeps getting stuck.
Rory Cellan-Jones
BBC technology correspondent

At 0300 this average rose to 1.8Mbps, illustrating that contention issues - how many people use the service at any given time - plays a big role in limiting speed.

On average mobile broadband users were only getting a quarter of advertised speeds, found Epitiro's study.

Increasingly consumers are dropping their fixed line phones in favour of mobile. While mobile calls increased by 11 billion minutes during 2008, the number of minutes on fixed lines fell by 8 billion.

Consumers are getting increasingly data-hungry. In 2003, just 1% of revenue per mobile connection came from data but by 2008 that rose to 6%, according to Ofcom.

The Digital Britain report pledged to free up more 3G spectrum, which should improve coverage.

Consumer Focus, an organisation dedicated to campaigning for a fair deal for consumers, welcomed Ofcom's review of the mobile market.

"Some consumers find themselves excluded from mobile communications due to gaps in 3G coverage or the market's failure to make new technology accessible to all," said Audrey Gallacher, telecoms expert at Consumer Focus.

She felt that Ofcom could do more to make it easier for consumers to sign up to mobile broadband.

"Accessing the best deal in a market where mobile operators offer a bewildering array of over 200,000 different tariffs is a real challenge," she said.

"With mobiles now treated as an essential service rather than a luxury, there is more pressure than ever before on mobile companies to give consumers a fair deal and make mobile services accessible to all," she added.

UK 3G coverage graphic

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