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So the BBC are reporting (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37808943) that a Parliamentary Group (in this case, the aptly named British Infrastructure Group are putting pressure on the phone networks to allow roaming between networks in the UK. It is a rather farcical situation where phones on foreign networks get a better signal in the UK than local mobiles (as they are able to roam between different networks without restriction).

The sector has seen a mass of consolidation over the last few years, but mobile phone companies are still building their fiefdoms by themselves without any real obligation to provide service levels. Is a mobile phone still a “private luxury” or is the mobile network core “national infrastructure”? We’re of the view that communications (both fixed line and mobile) are now core national infrastructure and need to be treated as such.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of nationalisation. We wrote to HMG earlier in the year, and explained our view that the Nominet model is the best for “national infrastructure” – in the case, we were talking about BT Openreach, but the same applies here – although the motivations are different.

Underneath all of the LLU/OFTEL agreements, Openreach is owned by BT. their activities and actions will to some extent, always be motivated by the wider corporate group – however much they deny that it happens. By having the wider fixed line industry (including the likes of TalkTalk, BT – but even SME providers like us) as direct members the barriers to market are nil, and the motivations of the directors of that group are to act in the best interests of the membership as a whole.

With the phone networks, investing in and developing three separate national infrastructures (O2, Vodafone & MBNL (which is Three/EE’s shared network) is not cost effective for the consumer when there is nothing different between them on an infrastructure level. Obviously the networks from billing, pricing, etc. are different, but the technology is identical. We have seen MVNO’s (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) spring up – GiffGaff, ASDA, Tesco Mobile being some good examples. But they playing second fiddle to the networks, and they can’t necessarily undercut the networks (as they are reliant on them). It’s not a good situation for the end consumer.

In that BBC article, the networks suggest that forcing roaming is not the best way to encourage investment in mobile networks. As businesses, they are right – investing in a mast in the middle of rural Cumbria is not a good way to make returns to shareholders. On the other side, if we’re now in a position of cellular coverage being “national infrastructure”, we need to take the shareholders out of the mix.

On this point, we’ve recently switched our work phones across to Vodafone from 3. Whilst pricing and coverage were a driver, the availability of Vodafone’s WiFi Calling integrated into the handset and seamless handoff was a bigger one – a lot of our customer sites have poor or zero phone signal – keeping in touch and having access to our data is more important than ever now.

Kyle Williamson is Technical Director at Verstech Limited. He’s totally sick of poor phone coverage…