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Ofcom Slams O2 3G Coverage

Gordon Kelly by

Ofcom Slams O2 3G Coverage

O2 may have rights to the iPhone, Palm Pre and Samsung I7500 Galaxy but what good are they when it appears the telco doesn't have the network to do them justice?

That's the controversial message being illustrated this week by industry regulator Ofcom which for the first time has published UK maps of 3G coverage. Its results are hugely surprisingly with the country's two biggest telcos (O2 and Vodafone) actually scoring very poorly compared to less fashionable carriers 3 and Orange.

Ofcom lays these results out using UK maps with red patches highlighting areas of 3G coverage and does much to dismiss the 90 per cent and higher 3G coverage claims made by most of the major networks. In fact even those which do come out well still show numerous flat spots which must test the confidence of consumers that they can enjoy a seamless high speed mobile broadband experience. Meanwhile rural areas remain woefully neglected.

If there is some hope in this depressing picture it is that Ofcom admits much of its calculations were theoretical rather than involving extensive footwork in real world scenarios so expect a great deal of network criticism of the results.

That said, an industry body doesn't publish detailed maps such as this without feeling confident in its reasoning. It also serves as a timely reminder that just because all today's dongles and high end smartphones offer blisteringly quick 3G access that doesn't mean you'll actually be able to use it...

In related news Orange has announced it has won an exclusive deal for the Toshiba TG01 and it will be free on 24 month £40pm contracts starting tomorrow. Speculation had suggested the 4.1in Windows Mobile touchscreen smartphone was destined for industry magnet O2, but this deal does at least break that worrying trend.

On a more gloomy note I had an extensive hands on with the Snapdragon powered device yesterday and while it's a gorgeous piece of hardware the Toshiba Windows Mobile skinning is wafer thin, unintuitive and - despite all that horsepower on tap - feels horribly sluggish and unoptimised. A real opportunity missed. We'll follow up with a full review shortly but if you were planning to rush down to the shops tomorrow be sure to try before you buy.


Ofcom 3G Report

Go to comments


July 10, 2009, 5:55 am

yet another reason to be on 3, the three major networks don't even cover loads of the A1/M

Tim Sutton

July 10, 2009, 7:07 am

Wow. I knew 3G coverage was patchy, but this is far worse than I thought.

Nice to see that 3 and Orange have locked up that lucrative 20 miles out to sea market, I always wondered why they called a tariff Dolphin.


July 10, 2009, 1:14 pm

Like the networks' own maps I wonder how these reflect actual reality. My O2 BlackBerry gives good to full 3G everywhere I regularly travel in UK. My experience with Three outside of central London is of poor- moderate signal. It's going to be very subjective, depending on the few places most people tend to use their phones. But if the coverage maps are accurate, O2 needs to grt its act together. Collaborative, shared cell use is a welcome trend.


July 10, 2009, 2:11 pm

Sorry, where is Ofcom slamming O2's 3G coverage? :S If the release of these maps is Ofcom's attempt to *embarrass* the MNOs into building out their networks then, oh my god, bring in the Tories and lets do away with the useless twirps right now.

All MNOs have met their licence obligation of 80% population coverage, despite the geographic coverage looking so poor. All these maps show is how massively deficient the regulator and the government were in crafting good licences. Why did they not contain tougher requirements and penalties? Because then they wouldn't have been able to sell them for quite so many billions! Pathetic.

H3G didn't really have a choice but to undertake the most extensive rollout given that having customers roaming on another network likely costs them dear. Orange's rollout, however, is surprising if, in the real world, coverage is anything like they're suggesting. Perhaps they don't have much faith in Ofcom giving them a slice of the 900MHz band to deploy in. I'd imagine that's what everyone else is waiting for, tackling rural areas with 2100MHz makes no commercial sense.


July 10, 2009, 2:40 pm

I use both O2 (iPhone 3G) and Vodafone (3G Card in a notebook) all over the nation and can confirm that things are fine in most town/city centres - but actually quite poor as you hit the suburbs and outskirts (i.e. it's not just the village communities that are suffering with lack of 3G service).

People's individual experiences of 3G on these networks will depend largely on where they live, work and regularly travel - so maps like these are a really useful way to see a more objective picture of the state of play.

Hats off to Ofcom for laying the cards on the table - this is exactly the sort of information a 'watchdog' organisation should provide us with. Let's hope this is regularly updated to keep the operators on their toes.


July 10, 2009, 2:43 pm

I personally think those maps are rubbish, I find in norfolk 3g seems to work far better and more consistently on vodafone than on orange - whereas the maps show great big purple blobs all over norfolk on the orange map, and in half those places i don't get signal. Anyone else seeing this on the maps?

As for O2 3g signal - I think we all know thats a bit of a joke, don't we? Obviously all the iphone fans live in big cities!!

Zero 1

July 10, 2009, 2:59 pm

I totally agree with this, before my new iphone 3GS i was with 3. Where ever i went i had pretty good signal and covered most areas from cities to outer skirts. Since joining up with o2, i m just so disappointed, iphone is working great but i hardly get any signal. Its like whats the point having it if i can't use it half of the time. O2 please expand your 3G network coverage and let me have confidence in you.

Gavin Hamer

July 10, 2009, 3:12 pm

Thought the Tosh phone was TG01, rather than HG01?

Wafer thin UI in action:


I would only buy this if I was sure I could flash it to a different OS. WinMo 6.5 papers over a lot of the cracks.

Technical Itch

July 10, 2009, 3:33 pm

Nice to see the Toshiba TG01 (@Gordon you currently have HG01) come out to play, shame about the awful UI marring what is essentially a great feature set.

I'm also pleasantly suprised by Orange's coverage, they just need some decent handsets that can stand up to the Jesus phone now, if that's ever likely to happen. With Android, the HTC hero could come close, if not then maybe the SE Rachael might? (if that materialises).

2009 will be remembered as the year of the smartphones, albeit with a large proportion of the UK without the means to use them to their fullest!


July 11, 2009, 9:06 pm

trouble is ofcom only require 80% of the population to be covered and believe it or not 02's map IS 80% of the population.

looks like no point getting an iphone if you live in wales.

odd that apple picked the worst carrier both here and in usa


July 12, 2009, 12:31 am

As pointed out it depends hugely on where you live. I swapped to Vodafone for my last contract (from O2) and now can barely get a signal in my house. I live on the edge of a major town not far from London.

Unfortunately you just need to experiment.


July 12, 2009, 6:30 am

These maps are a load of crap. I work in Ealing, London W5 and the Orange signal which I get is appalling. As soon as I step into my building I'm lucky to get one bar. My colleagues on O2 and Voda have no issues. And it's not like I'm in the sticks.

I would never trust the maps. Best way to determine coverage is to get a payg sim for the network and test it yourself.


July 13, 2009, 2:16 am

@ravmania: true, but then the article does state that they're not detailed maps

@Ben: I doubt OFCOM are trying to show anyone up, but providing the general coverage that the telcos are providing is very useful. There's nothing wrong with that and provides a useful starting point for deciding which network is most likely to provide the necessary coverage.

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