Three: Train And Venue Operators Should Help Improve Indoor Mobile Coverage

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Three’s network head Phil Sheppard says it is in other businesses’ interests to help improve indoor mobile coverage

Mobile operator Three says venue owners, train companies and the government should all pitch in to boost indoor and rural mobile coverage in the UK, claiming the benefits of investment are not just limited to mobile operators.

Phil Sheppard, Three’s director of network strategy and architecture, said the company was doing a lot to improve indoor coverage through Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi), Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and 800MHz spectrum rollouts, but there were gaps that it alone cannot fill.

“We can do quite a lot as a mobile operator to increase coverage and indeed we are,” he told the Connected Britain event in London. “We have signed up like all the operators to the 90 percent geographic coverage obligation and we’re heading towards a similar level of indoor coverage.

Coverage challenge

Three Connected Britain“But its physically impossible from a mobility point of view to get cover every location. Some [buildings], particularly hotels, have very thick, multiple walls between conference centres and outdoors which make it very difficult for radio signals to penetrate.

“I do think there’s some scope for collaboration with venue owners. I think it would be a positive and constructive way of working together.”

Sheppard said Three had been working with Arqiva and Premier Inn to deploy femtocells in some hotels, which provided good coverage in all the main areas of the building. This project, he said would benefit Premier Inn’s customers, not just those of the mobile companies, and argued other industries could benefit.

Working together

“Train coverage has been problematic and there have been various attempts to improve it,” he explained. “I would argue that if you’re going to build a train that has absolutely zero penetration of radio signals, then maybe you might want to help improve mobile signal by putting repeaters in them, because your customers will value it.”

All four major UK operators have agreed to invest a combined £5 billion in their respective network infrastructures as the government seeks to eliminate mobile ‘notspots’ in rural areas.

The £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) was intended to help improve mobile services in areas where there is no commercial case to do so, and Sheppard believes future government intervention will be necessary.

“MIP hasn’t delivered quite within the timescale it wanted, but in principle, it’s still the right sort of thing to do,” he argued. “Because in these locations, the number of customers is so tiny that deploying a site, which costs £100,000 or more, is never going to be commercially viable.”

Recent research suggests that two fifths of UK mobile users have a ‘blackspot’ in their home where they are unable to make calls or access data services. The same report revealed that a quarter have switched network because of problems with mobile Internet and a seventh have moved because of voice issues, making the issue a priority for operators.

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