Greater co-operation between mobile network companies could help improve the signal in blighted areas – including large parts of Shetland.
That is the view of Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael who urged the communications firms to take action. He said that if the companies fail to address the situation the UK government will legislate to force them to do so.
His comments come after the Westminster culture secretary Sajid Javid published plans to consult on a proposal to allow mobile users to switch networks when they have no signal from their provider.
Overseas visitors can already use “roaming” facilities to switch to local networks in order to stay connected in so-called “not-spots”. Meanwhile the estimated one million Britons suffering from unreliable network coverage are not able to make use of the same provision.
Mr Carmichael said: “Loss of phone signal is something which we in the isles have all experienced and it is a source of great frustration for many. Local businesses, in particular, increasingly highlight this as an issue that holds them back.
“The solution here could lie in the hands of the mobile network operators themselves. If they would work together to share infrastructure such as masts then enormous improvements could be possible. If, however, they continue as they are doing then the government will act to force change. Mobile phone use is no longer a luxury but is regarded by many people these days as another utility.”
The lack of mobile phone coverage is worst in rural areas – where there is a lower density of customers – across the UK. According to figures supplied by
Mr Carmichael in Shetland more than a fifth (22.1 per cent) of the “geographical area” is served by just one provider, while 24 per cent is served by to. That means the total geographical area in partial not-spots is 46.1 per cent – the third highest in the UK.
Mr Carmichael said the latest proposals “would go some way towards tackling the problem of mobile ‘not-spots’ and it is disappointing that the larger mobile companies like Vodafone, 02, EE and Three have not been able to reach an agreement that will ultimately benefit mobile phone users across the UK.”
He added: “Travellers to the UK can already use roaming facilities to switch to local networks when they cannot access their usual provider. If mobile companies cannot reach an agreement with the government we will look to put mast sharing into law.”
Mr Javid’s proposal sparked reports in the national media that the idea was not supported by Home Secretary Theresa May, on national secutiry grounds.