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'Not-spots': A thing of the past, thanks to national roaming?

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Though it’s probably long overdue, the government's recent plans to tackle so called 'not-spots' has certainly caused some debate. There's no escaping the poor or patchy signals some rural and even urban areas receive. So when secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Sajid Javid announced measures to force operators to implement reliable connectivity nationwide its not surprising the industry reacted vocally.

A number of ways of addressing the issue have been proposed. Among these suggestions is the idea of national roaming. Just like international roaming, this involves switching between networks whenever you have a poor signal. A Vodafone spokesperson has contested the similarity this would have with international roaming, claiming that it would be more of a technically complex system.

It's perhaps not surprising that mobile network operators (MNOs) would oppose this method. Think about it with your consumer head on: imagine you were signed up to one network and by using national roaming, you discovered that a different network gave a better service. How would that influence your decision when you came to renewing your contract? You'd surely consider switching networks. Alternatively, MNOs could use it to their advantage. Good coverage and strong hot-spots is a great way to drive new customers.

There is need for clarity on how national roaming would work in practice. Imagine your device is constantly searching for a better network and undoubtedly draining the battery in the process: something that smartphones are notorious for already. Would it be better to turn your roaming service on and off, depending on when you need it? This sounds a little inconvenient and defeats the object; after all, isn't the device meant to search for the better network itself? Not only that, a device switching between networks while you're in the middle of a call is likely to cause handover issues. Would a switch to another network result in a dropped call?

The idea of mast sharing between networks has also been proposed. If the government passed legislation that gave MNOs shared access to masts, there would theoretically be an equal dispersal of signal for all networks. Sounds fair enough; there would then be no chance of your next door neighbour on a different network being able to make a call while you can't. However, unless more masts are built, there will still be too many black-holes in the signal-seeking world.

As the government recognises the unacceptability of poor signals in the UK, MNOs are unified against the upcoming legislation. This news story resonates with us here at Redcentric. As part of our on going dialogue with customers, we’ve already identified a need for national roaming and a hosted telephony SIM solution. We think the UK should benefit from better network coverage, whether it’s delivered by national roaming or mast sharing.

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