Lord Adonis, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), has written to Ofcom urging the regulator to put all options on the table, including changes to law, to improve poor services across the country.
His comments come after Ofcom revealed total geographic 4G coverage, where a signal is available from all four mobile operators, is available across just 43% of the UK. For calls and text messaging, 30% of the UK does not receive a signal from all four operators.
In the letter, Adonis said: “In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded as a must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call.
“The situation is even worse than we thought. It demonstrates the need for urgent and radical action to tackle this issue immediately, ahead of new mobile spectrum being auctioned and 5G technology being rolled out.”
He said that as industry regulator Ofcom must act urgently. “They should put all possible options on the table – including legal and regulatory changes – to ensure customers can be confident they are will get the service they deserve and pay for,” he said.
In October, Adonis, a former Labour transport secretary, launched a public consultation on the quality of the state of UK infrastructure generally and singled out mobile services as an area needing urgent attention.
Last year, his report into Britain’s 4G mobile phone coverage found it was worse than that in Albania, Panama, Peru and Romania.
The NIC said the UK was being held back by poor mobile phone connectivity as it called for an end to “digital deserts” in places that should have adequate signals, such as rail routes, roads and city centres.
Ofcom’s chief technology officer, Steve Unger, agreed urgent change was needed. He said: “We’re playing our part by enforcing rules for better coverage, and preparing to set new rules in operators’ licences. We’re also boosting the capacity of mobile networks by releasing new airwaves, and helping to improve coverage on trains.”