UK’s best and worst cities for 4G mobile coverage revealed

Middlesbrough is the best place in the UK to get mobile 4G coverage while Bournemouth is the worst, says a report.
  
Middlesbrough is the best place in the UK to get mobile 4G coverage while Bournemouth is the worst, says a report.
 
Consumer group Which? and analyst OpenSignal measured data from mobile phones across 20 cities in the UK. They say “critical” reforms are needed to provide a better service for customers.
 
Ofcom said its rules meant “virtually all” UK premises would have to receive a 4G signal by the end of the year. The OpenSignal study analysed more than 500m data readings from mobile phones taken from more than 30,000 users between December 1 2016 and February 28 via an app. It ranked 20 of the biggest cities from top to bottom based on their 4G availability.
 
Top 5: Middlesbrough/Teesside – 82.7%, Sheffield – 79.3%, Sunderland – 79%, Leicester – 78.6%, Leeds/West Yorkshire – 78.2%
 
Bottom 5: Bournemouth/Poole – 67.5%, Southampton/Portsmouth – 69.6%, Cardiff – 71.8%, Nottingham – 73.3%, London – 73.6%
 
The report also looked at average 4G download speeds across the UK, finding Stoke-on-Trent to be the fastest city and Brighton the slowest. Which? says big cities often suffer from sub-par mobile networks because it is more difficult to build towers and masts in built-up urban areas.
 
Which? is calling on the next government to work with Ofcom and mobile providers to ensure “critical reforms” are made to ensure a better performance and service for customers. Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said Ofcom needed to “keep the pressure” on mobile operators so every part of the country got a “decent service”.
 
“Our mobile phone is central to how we live our lives and that is why it is so frustrating when we can’t access emails or browse the internet on the go,” she added.
 
Ofcom said it agreed mobile coverage must improve and that it understood the “importance” of having a reliable mobile broadband where people live and work. A spokeswoman said: “Ofcom rules mean that virtually all UK premises must receive a 4G signal by the end of this year. We’re also making available valuable new airwaves to boost mobile broadband, and have challenged mobile operators to explore how to reach all remote areas and transport lines.”
 
 

UK mobile network performance best in Belfast area

Belfast and its surrounding area is the best in the UK for overall mobile network performance, according to research.
  
Belfast and its surrounding area is the best in the UK for overall mobile network performance, according to research.
 
Research company RootMetrics tested the performance of the four main operators in the UK’s 16 most populated areas. London ranked fourth from the bottom, with only Bristol, Hull and Cardiff getting lower overall scores.
 
But RootMetrics said all the areas surveyed had improved over the past few years. Newcastle and Glasgow were both singled out for improved network performance, thanks in part to increased data reliability and speed.
 
The research focused on six categories: network reliability, network speed, data performance, call performance, text performance & overall performance.
 
Belfast, Manchester, and Liverpool took the top three places in four of the six categories. As well as being ranked best overall, Belfast was found to be best for text performance, data performance and speed. Manchester was the best performing in terms of network reliability and call performance.
 
Of the 16 cities RootMetrics studied, Cardiff got the lowest score.
 
RootMetrics’ research showed that data speeds in the area were getting faster, but the networks’ performance in the other categories was largely unchanged from the first half of 2016.
 
The research covered not just the named cities but their surrounding areas. The region covered by the London data, for example, stretches “from Maidenhead to Southend-on-Sea, and from Tunbridge Wells to Cambridge”, according to Scott Stonham, general manager for RootMetrics Europe.
 
“There’s a high level of transient demand from people travelling through the area, which is difficult to plan for, and the bigger the area the harder that is,” he said. “With the numbers of people and the area covered, we get quite a wide spectrum of performance. London as a city is much better.”
 
RootMetrics said that the improved mobile performance in Newcastle was the result of faster download speeds, data reliability, and fewer blocked and dropped calls on all the networks. In Glasgow, the researchers found “significant improvements” to both the speed and reliability of data services.
 
 
 
 

Three apologises after network problems

Mobile phone company Three has apologised after some of its customers were unable to make calls or texts.
  
Mobile phone company Three has apologised after some of its customers were unable to make calls or texts.
 
The company said it had a “temporary network issue” which affected calls and texts during Saturday afternoon and evening. It said calls had since been restored and that it is working to restore full service.
 
But some users on Twitter complained of their texts being sent to random numbers instead of their contacts.
 
A spokeswoman said the company was “currently investigating the cause of the service disruption” and that it apologised for any inconvenience. It also said that some “customers and non-customers” may have received a message from an unknown sender on Saturday.
 
In a statement on its website, the company said its advice “is to ignore all text messages that you deem incorrect”.
 
Three, which has about nine million customers, experienced a data breach last year which saw personal details, including names and addresses, accessed unlawfully.
 
 

Vodafone to use artificial intelligence to speed up online queries

Vodafone UK has launched TOBi – the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot – as an innovative way of offering our customers a quicker web chat service.  
 
Vodafone UK has launched TOBi – the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot – as an innovative way of offering our customers a quicker web chat service.  
 
TOBi, a virtual customer services’ agent, can handle a range of customer queries including device troubleshooting, usage and order tracking amongst many others.
 
Recent research shows that 55% of UK consumers say that the most important factor in the ideal customer experience is getting a prompt and effective response to queries[1], highlighting the need for companies to provide faster and more integrated customer service responses. With 75% of all consumers aged 18-25 already using instant messenger everyday [2], TOBi is our answer to providing customers with the quick and easy web chat service they want.
 
TOBi is already available to some customers through our online web chat service. Later this month messaging will also be available through the My Vodafone app, so customers will be able to speak to advisors whenever they want and while they are on the go.
 
The pilot platform is powered by a combination of IBM Watson and LivePerson, in a blend of the two cutting edge technologies. This provides customers with a smooth and efficient way of having simple queries answered, before being seamlessly handed over to web chat advisors if needed. Vodafone continues to assess multiple solutions and technologies to implement the future roll out of the programme.
 
However, we know that sometimes customers just want to speak to a person.  That’s why in March we started recruiting 2,100 new UK customer services roles across the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland.
 
Neil Blagden Vodafone UK CS&O Director said: “If customers have a question or want to raise an issue, we know they don’t want to wait.  So introducing TOBi is an exciting step forward in giving our customers the quick and seamless service they want. Our ambition is to give our customers the best experience possible: TOBi is another important step in our journey to achieving that ambition.”
 
 
 
 

Vodafone scraps roaming fees in much of Europe

Vodafone has scrapped roaming charges for UK customers in 40 countries, meaning they can use their plans there without additional costs.
 
Vodafone has scrapped roaming charges for UK customers in 40 countries, meaning they can use their plans there without additional costs.
 
However, the new terms are being applied initially only to new or upgraded contracts. The EU is expected to abolish roaming charges for its 28 member states in June. Countries in Vodafone’s roam-free destinations list include non-EU states such as Norway, Iceland and Turkey. Beyond these territories, mobile phone users will be charged £5 per day to use UK plans in 60 states including the United States, Russia, China and India.
 
Vodafone rival Three already offers free roaming in 42 countries on advanced plans.
 
 
 

Experts warn strange texts from 2003 could be a scam

Over the past few months, some smartphone users have been receiving eerie blank text messages with a timestamp dated back to 2003.
  
Over the past few months, some smartphone users have been receiving eerie blank text messages with a timestamp dated back to 2003.
 
The phenomenon has spurred speculation across the internet as to what they might be, with many confused users drawing connections to time travel and even Stranger Things. It’s now thought that the SMS protocol is to blame, as it allows for two different ways to receive messages – one of which makes it possible to ‘fake absolutely everything,’ according to The Next Web.
 
While it’s still unclear what the purpose of these ‘time travel’ texts really is, experts are warning users to report and delete these messages if they receive them, as they are likely a prank or a scam.
 
Last week, Reddit user Nihlus89 posted that they’d received a text from 2003. ‘So this happened today,’ the Redditor wrote. ‘I got this text from this weird number. Has this happened to anyone else? Should I be worried?’ 
 
As it turns out, Nihlus89 isn’t alone in the experience – countless users have taken to social media to share photos of the bizarre text that appear to have been sent 14 years ago.
 
While some appear to be sent by a standard phone number, others were tied to a source with a long string of digits – and, some were sent simply by the number ‘19’. On Reddit, users suggested the bizarre ‘time travel’ text may boil down to a glitch with UK operator EE mobile. But, the strange texts have made their way to Vodafone as well.
 
 
 
 

EE shows off helium balloon mobile masts

EE today showcased a vital mobile technology of the future, demonstrating how it will use its patent-pending balloon and drone ‘air masts’ to connect the most remote parts of the UK and keep communities online in the wake of disasters such as major flooding.
  
EE today showcased a vital mobile technology of the future, demonstrating how it will use its patent-pending balloon and drone ‘air masts’ to connect the most remote parts of the UK and keep communities online in the wake of disasters such as major flooding.
 
EE, the mobile network with the largest 4G coverage in the UK, showed how it can use mini mobile sites attached to a helium balloon – a ‘Helikite’ – to provide wide area 4G mobile coverage where permanent sites have been damaged or in areas where there is no 4G coverage. EE also showcased the use of drones equipped with mini sites, each including a basestation and antenna, that could be used to provide targeted coverage, including in search and rescue operations.
 
EE’s unique solutions demonstrate the use of small cells connected back into the EE network over satellite or using EE’s 4G spectrum to be able to make calls and access the internet from even the most remote areas. EE’s tethered and powered mobile ‘air mast’ solutions are currently in patent-pending status.
 
EE expects to deliver a deployed balloon solution in a rural environment in 2017.
 
As well as aerial solutions for replacement and remote consumer coverage, EE is also deploying a fleet of Rapid Response Vehicles that will support the new Emergency Services Network, keeping this vital service live during local site outages and essential maintenance.
 
EE CEO Marc Allera said: “We are going to extraordinary lengths to connect communities across the UK. Innovation is essential for us to go further than we’ve ever gone, and deliver a network that’s more reliable than ever before. Rural parts of the UK provide more challenges to mobile coverage than anywhere else, so we have to work harder there – developing these technologies will ultimately help our customers, even in the most hard to reach areas.
 
“Looking ahead, I see innovations like this revolutionising the way people connect. We’re developing the concept of ‘coverage on demand’. What if an event organiser could request a temporary EE capacity increase in a rural area, or a climber going up Ben Nevis could order an EE aerial coverage solution to follow them as they climb? We need to innovate, and we need to think differently, always using customers’ needs to drive the way we create new technologies.”
 
EE is upgrading more than 100 sites to 4G every week as part of its network expansion on the way to 92% UK geographic coverage in 2017. Some of those 100 sites per week add new coverage and some increase signal strength, capacity and reliability in areas with existing coverage. EE is also rolling out a further 3,000 sites using low frequency 800MHz spectrum that reaches further in rural areas and improves indoor coverage.
 
EE’s breakthroughs in developing innovative aerial solutions have been achieved with the support of the most innovative partners from the mobile industry and beyond: Nokia has provided world class, lightweight, compact and portable Flexi Zone small cell basestation solutions; Parallel Wireless has delivered a unique technology with self-configuring and self-optimising basestation, in-band backhaul capability, and network meshing techniques; Avanti has enabled a fast, reliable satellite backhaul connection; VoltServer has provided touch-safe and flexible Digital Electricity power over data cable/tether; uVue has evolved drone designs to meet the specific requirements of providing mobile coverage; and Allsopp Helikites has provided the ‘Helikite’ solution that makes a stable, high altitude service possible.
 
 
 

Asda picks BT to deliver 4G mobile services

4G on its way for ASDA Mobile customers as it extends its MVNO partnership with BT
  
4G on its way for ASDA Mobile customers as it extends its MVNO partnership with BT
 
BT today announced an extension to its Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement, using its EE network, with the UK supermarket chain ASDA. The new deal will include access to 4G services for the first time and will allow ASDA Mobile customers to enjoy faster speeds on their mobile devices from the spring. The agreement is an extension of the previous five-year contract signed by EE, now part of BT Group plc, in August 2014, and takes the exclusive contract to the end of 2020.
 
EE’s 4G coverage today reaches almost three quarters of the UK’s landmass and this will extend to 95 per cent of the country by 2020. ASDA Mobile expects to switch its customers across from 3G to 4G services during the spring.
 
Richard Phillips, VP of ASDA Mobile, said: “ASDA is delighted to extend our partnership with EE as it allows us to provide faster speeds and easier top ups for our customers.Combined with our award winning customer service and excellent value, ASDA Mobile becomes an even more compelling proposition for our customers.”
 
Gerry McQuade, CEO BT Wholesale & Ventures, said: “The strength and breadth of the EE 4G mobile network and our ability to provide excellent levels of customer service on a fully managed basis makes BT the ideal partner for ASDA Mobile. We’re very proud to have helped them achieve award winning levels of customer service and the move to 4G will only make them a stronger force to be reckoned with in the marketplace. With ASDA stores boasting a footfall of 19 million customers, we have a terrific opportunity to help ASDA Mobile to significantly grow its business and customer base.”
 
BT will deliver mobile voice and data services to hundreds of thousands of ASDA Mobile’s customers on a wholesale basis via its EE 4G mobile network. ASDA Mobile offers a range of great value Pay-as-you-Go and 30-day bundle pricing options.
 
As well as delivering the underlying mobile infrastructure and services to supply its customers, BT will continue to provide ASDA Mobile will a fully managed customer service solution which includes first and second line call centre services, registrations, top ups, billing services and a full mobile network services portfolio in the UK and when roaming.
 
This fully managed service has allowed ASDA Mobile to achieve award winning customer service levels over the past year, with the virtual operator earning a Recommended Provider rating from Which?.
 
As part of the new agreement, BT will for the first time provide ASDA Mobile with an automatic debit facility, which will allow PAYG customers to set up an alert to notify them when their credit is running low and automatically top up their credit by their chosen amount.
 
 

It’s as easy as Wuntu-Three

Three, the network that prides itself on championing the customer, has today launched Wuntu – a pioneering new app that delivers a range of exclusive rewards, money-saving offers and one-off experiences, direct to the mobiles of its customers
  
Three, the network that prides itself on championing the customer, has today launched Wuntu – a pioneering new app that delivers a range of exclusive rewards, money-saving offers and one-off experiences, direct to the mobiles of its customers.
 
Today marks the start of a journey for Three in changing the game in loyalty programmes. Wuntu will begin with a simple, unique, fast-paced offering of seven offers each week. It will gradually improve and over time it will grow to learn more about its users, with the assortment of offers, rewards and content becoming more timely, targeted and tailored to people’s interests. So the more people use it, the better it will get – understanding what customers like, inspiring them and even suggesting new things they might like to try.
 
Danny Dixon, Director of Digital Offers & Rewards at Three said: “Three’s aim is to simplify the complex landscape of loyalty programmes. Wuntu is unlike any other rewards programme out there. Over time, Wuntu will become innovative and intuitive, ultimately making the customer feel like a king. While at first the rewards it offers will be more generic, over time the mixture of offers, rewards and content will become increasingly catered to the users’ interests, the more they use it. It’s completely free to download for all Three customers, making it a real no-brainer for users to begin benefitting from immediately.”
 
Danny continued: “We’re working with some fantastic partners for launch and the list is set to grow as the app gains popularity. The best part is that the app is very simple to use, so our customers will have a great user experience from the moment they download Wuntu through to how they claim their offers.”
 
The types of rewards and offers available on Wuntu will cater for all tastes and quirks, and will be spread across a number of different categories, including Travel, Taste, Entertainment and Technology. So whether you’re a foodie who loves dining-out, a jetsetter with constant wanderlust, or a gadget-obsessed techie, there’s a reward out there for you.
 
Three has partnered with a number of exciting brands to offer these top notch rewards, including the likes of Deliveroo and Amazon. Better still, one of the offers currently available is the chance to win one of 10 five-night trips to New York City with lastminute.com.
 
The line-up of offers will refresh every Thursday, with seven new deals made available to each user every week. The nature of these will range from the small to the show-stopping – so from money off your morning coffee, right up to a chance of winning a free holiday, you can rest assured there will always be something that takes your fancy.
 
Wuntu is available to all Pay As You Go, Contract and Mobile Broadband Three customers. The app can be downloaded now from Google Play, iTunes and via Three’s app My3.
 
 

Bristol joins race to be test bed for ultra-fast 5G technology

British inventors may have pioneered the telephone and the internet but the reliability of those networks in this country is lagging behind.
 
British inventors may have pioneered the telephone and the internet but the reliability of those networks in this country is lagging behind.
 
A recent Ofcom report suggested 20% of homes in urban areas struggle with poor 4G phone signal. In rural areas, it’s as high as 80%. Little wonder then Britain languishes at 54th place in the global league table of 4G connectivity, behind Albania, Estonia and Peru.
 
The hunt is now on for test beds to develop new 5G technology – Bristol, Kings College London and the University of Surrey are all said to be interested. The government has announced a fresh drive to bring us up to speed for the digital age. It has put superfast connections at the heart of its Industrial Strategy, backed up with investment of £1bn.
 
Inside the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol – I discover just how much progress they’ve already made. They’ve designed a small box that emits 5G. The promise is super-fast, super-reliable connectivity wherever you go.
 
It’s an essential component in the driverless car technology they’re also working on here. When you’re travelling at 60mph in a car reliant on mobile signals for direction, you can’t afford to slip into a digital desert.
 

Lab director, Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, said: “5G is a revolution. It’s not just about having a faster connection in our mobile phones – it’s also about creating a seamless connectivity with the network and it’s about having complete reliability. Often in your home you have great connectivity. Your teenagers might be on YouTube while you’re watching programmes streamed on iPlayer. Then you get into your car and you don’t even get a 3G service. 5G will stop all of this.”

 
As our data demands climb exponentially we need a network that can support them. Now the race is on to design the framework for that digital dream.