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Mobile maps show variation in regional 3G coverage

Orange and 3 appear to offer widest 3G coverage

Apple iPhone 3GS

Mobile networks 3 and Orange appear to have the UK’s most extensive 3G mobile signal coverage, according to new maps of UK 3G mobile coverage from mobile phone watchdog Ofcom.

The 3G mobile signal maps cover the five UK mobile networks – 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone. The maps let mobile customers who want to surf mobile broadband on their mobile phone or laptop, or who want to use the 3G signal on their mobile phone to make video calls, check at a glance whether each of the mobile networks have a 3G signal where they live.

What is 3G?

3G is short for third generation and gives you faster mobile internet access, video messaging and downloads, and even the ability to watch TV on your mobile. For more details on 3G plus reviews of a host of 3G mobile phones, including the iPhone 3G, see the Which? review of mobile phones. 

A good 3G signal is also essential if you want to access internet on the go on your laptop via a mobile broadband dongle.

Mobile broadband not-spots

Although mobile networks often claim to cover at least ‘80% of the UK’, this is usually based on 3G coverage by population, not geographical area. As the 3G mobile network coverage maps show, many rural areas – for example in Devon, Scotland and Wales – are out of the reach of any mobile provider’s 3G signal.

The publication of its 3G coverage maps comes alongside a pledge by Ofcom to focus on persistent mobile ‘not-spot’ areas – areas of poor or no reception – and to work where it can to facilitate better mobile coverage.

It hopes its work will help with Government proposals to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband as well as work to improve 3G coverage on key transport routes.

Orange and 3 have widest 3G coverage

At a glance the maps suggest big differences in 3G geographical coverage between different providers.

Ofcom states that its maps show UK-wide general coverage and that the accuracy and detail of the maps are not to the same level as the mobile operators publish on their websites, many of which offer the option to check their own 3G mobile coverage by postcode area. However when Which? spot checked a few locations across the UK, it found that Ofcom’s maps were a good match to the information on mobile providers’ websites. 

Ofcom also says that the maps are not suitable for assessing the quality or depth of the 3G coverage (for example the number of mobile users a 3G network can support, or what speed it operates at).

Which? broadband expert Ceri Stanaway says: ‘When we conducted a user test of mobile broadband services in late 2008, broadband speeds slowed to a frustrating crawl outside of 3G coverage areas. 

‘What these maps make clear is if you’re thinking of buying a mobile broadband dongle or a mobile service for which 3G functionality plays a key role – such as O2’s iPhone 3GS tariff – you should check before buying whether your chosen network has 3G mobile coverage where you need it.’  

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