FUW join forces with Ofcom

JOINT MEETING: Mobile network representatives from EE, O2, Vodafone and Three with Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb, FUW deputy president Brian Thomas and FUW president Glyn Roberts at the Ofcom event.

JOINT MEETING: Mobile network representatives from EE, O2, Vodafone and Three with Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb, FUW deputy president Brian Thomas and FUW president Glyn Roberts at the Ofcom event.

ThE lack of network coverage in rural Wales was high on the agenda at the Royal Welsh Show when FUW joined forces with Ofcom. The FUW and Ofcom held wide-ranging talks with representatives from the four mobile network operators – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three to provide the operators with an opportunity to update the invited audience on the progress being made to improve coverage in rural Wales. Achieving widespread and reliable mobile coverage across Wales is challenging due to geographical, topographical and technological constraints. Data from Ofcom’s recent Connected Nation report shows that the percentage of premises with outdoor voice 2G and 3G services by all four operators in Wales has reached 93 per cent at Coverage on A and B roads by all four operators is around 50 per cent with only one operator reaching 76 per cent. There remain areas in Wales with no mobile coverage from all four of the network operators as well as complete not-spots where there is no coverage at all. In geographic terms Wales has more voice not spots than the UK (13per cent). A similar pattern is seen with data coverage. Wales has about the same level of data not-spots as the UK overall at 21 per cent of the landmass not covered by a data service from any operator. FUW deputy president Brian Thomas, who was delighted that the union was once again hosting this event at the Royal Welsh Show, said: “This is the sixth consecutive year at the show that the FUW has collaborated with Ofcom in providing a platform for discussion on the wide ranging communications issues facing rural Wales. “A lot of work has been done over the past five years to improve services for mobile phone coverage and broadband access but with ever increasing demands on the farming community to carry out their business duties online more needs to be done to accelerate the process by which these twenty-first century services are readily and reliably available. “The farming industry, in increasing numbers, is reliant on smart phone technology such as apps and it is second nature for the up-and-coming younger generation to use their phones in innovative ways – so if rural businesses in Wales want to remain at the forefront of progress then more needs to be done to support them. “Further to this, online IACS, BCSM online and EID are just a few examples that farmers throughout Wales require reliable and fast internet connections for, which could be accessed through the appropriate mobile phone coverage if no broadband line is available. “So as an union we cannot stress the fact enough that more needs to be done to help rural communities and farm businesses by providing them with the essentials that every twenty-first century business needs.” Ofcom is working with the mobile network operators and other stakeholders to improve mobile coverage across the UK. In 2013, Ofcom awarded a 4G licence to O2 which requires the company to extend indoor coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2017 at the latest. This will mean coverage of more than 99 per cent of the UK population when outdoors. Under the terms of the licence O2 is also obliged to ensure coverage to 95 per cent of each of the nations, including Wales, within the same timescale. The other mobile operators have indicated that they intend to match O2’s 98 per cent coverage obligation for 4G mobile. This will see a marked increase in mobile broadband coverage into many areas still unserved by 3G. In addition, all four network operators have committed to invest significantly to improve rural coverage as part of a legally-binding agreement with the UK Government to extend a basic voice and text service over 2G to 90 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2017. This is not a Wales specific target but it will lead to a considerable reduction in the number of not spots. Ofcom’s director in Wales, Rhodri Williams said: “Improving mobile coverage in Wales is more challenging but no less important. Wherever Ofcom can meet those challenges we will. “There are of course steps that can be taken by organisations in Wales to help facilitate the extension of mobile networks. One example is ensuring that planning regimes make it as easy as possible for the operators to build masts. This is a vital step in improving coverage.” In addition, the FUW welcomed the announcement made by Wales Office minister Guto Bebb who told the Ofcom reception that there will be a summit this autumn to discuss poor signal coverage in Wales. Mr Bebb said: “It is vital for small and medium-size companies and home-based enterprises to develop and grow their business in the rural Welsh economy. “We now rightfully expect our mobile devices to work reliably wherever we are, be it at home, at work, in a car, or in the fields of Powys. “That’s why, building on the discussions at this event, we will convene a summit with Ofcom, the mobile network operators and other key stakeholders to formally consider the issues surrounding poor mobile connectivity in Wales.”

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