Are Wi-Fi Phone Calls the Answer for Areas Without Mobile Signal?

November 7th, 2014 by · 2 Comments

This is a guest article contributed by Rachel Hemsley.  If you would like to write an article for us, contact the webmaster.

With today’s reliance on mobile phones it’s easy to assume that no matter where you go (unless it’s a train tunnel) there will be mobile coverage. However, there are still a surprising amount of locations where getting a good mobile signal is a rare occurrence.

The everyday goings on of our modern day lifestyles have become completely intertwined with the internet and mobile communications, you often don’t realise how much you rely on it until it’s unavailable. This clip from the most recent episode of New Girl illustrates how perplexing not having mobile phone signal can be in the modern era:

This map illustrates how many areas in the UK still don’t have mobile phone network coverage. As you can see, whilst the majority of the UK seems to have good signal, it seems that there are actually quite a few small areas which have little to no signal.

In some rural areas you can’t even get emergency mobile phone signal, which seems like it should a bare minimum for practical concerns. Not being able to call emergency professionals from a mobile phone, when they’re needed in this day-and-age seems a little ridiculous.

Local Areas Asking for Help

Locals in areas with signal problems have to be campaigning to try and get it improved; for example in East Suffolk there has been a campaign of this nature for the last two years.

In fact a local business owner Naomi Tarry, who runs a successful business renting out Suffolk cottages, commented on the difficulty the lack of mobile signal causes for her guests:

“We have to tell people where they can get a signal when they rent our cottages. Sometimes you can get a signal upstairs not downstairs, sometimes we have to tell them to go up the hill! There has been no improvement over the last year and it is very inconvenient. People who come away expect to be able to stay in touch with their families or businesses. It is not good enough.”

This is just one example of what’s happening in various locations across the country. Vodafone was asked to comment on the Suffolk campaign and a spokeswoman commented that they’d vastly increased their investment in new phone masts over the last year, she could not say when east Suffolk would receive mobile coverage. She did say that Vodafone was running a competition where 100 small communities across the country could get improve mobile coverage.

The UK government did propose the idea of “national roaming” to try and help those in rural areas gain access to mobile signal – which would have allowed individuals to access whichever network was available in low signal areas no matter which provider they were with. Unfortunately, this was rejected by the major networks. It seems that help from the major networks will be at their own pace and on their own terms.

In this age of innovation and widespread access to technology it seems odd there has not yet been a solution for areas with weak signal. You can even get free Wi-Fi on your mobile at London underground stations now-a-days. Obviously, there is a large population who use this transport and there was probably a bigger demand for access to mobile/internet on the tube. But if we can manage to supply mobile access underground, surely we can also find ways to reach more remote areas?

Wi-Fi Calling

A new innovation by Apple could help with signal problems. While making calls with Wi-Fi is no way a new concept, the version Apple is working on differs in some important ways. It doesn’t require an app to make the phone call – in terms of functionality you make the phone call in the exact same way as usual. If you can’t get mobile signal your phone will automatically make the call using available internet connection and you theoretically wouldn’t even notice. Another key difference is these Wi-Fi based calls are secure and managed via an operator’s core network instead, which most previous incarnations of this tech are not.

This could be especially helpful as even areas with weak mobile signal tend to have broadband; so with Apple’s Wi-Fi calling or an equivalent locations could make mobile phone calls as normal, just utilising a different form of connectivity.

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Categories: Guest Posts · Wireless

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