Government plans are afoot to try and bring an end to so–called mobile black spots, forcing carriers to allow users to roam on rivals’ networks when no signal is available.
According to the Telegraph, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid is readying a new law after Three, EE, Vodafone and O2 failed to agree a voluntary package.
Roaming is already a big deal when travelling, and with additional costs for travellers due to be scrapped in the EU next year, attention is now turning to those who are unable to connect in the UK, despite paying hefty monthly fees.
The new law, however, isn’t designed to stop black spots.
Rather, it’s aimed at fixing so–called ‘partial not spots’ - areas where one network may have availability, but others do not. In those cases, users of the network with a signal can use their phones, while those on rival services cannot.
This, in and of itself, is welcome. But this will not bring coverage to those rural areas where it has always been an issue.
The Telegraph has pointed out that the Coalition has set aside £150 million to build new masts in hard to reach areas, but responsibility must also surely fall to providers, especially if they secure users on the promise of coverage, only to fail to deliver.
New roaming laws may provide a backbone, but there needs to be further weakening of the stronghold that networks have over users.
Another way this can be fixed is via manufacturers flexing their muscles and developing in–built SIMs, along the lines of the one Apple has baked into its new iPad mini 3 and iPad Air 2.
It is early days for such technology, but being able to easily choose a new package via your phone if coverage is poor or non-existent in a given area would give consumers more choice.
It would also leave them less in thrall to the vagaries of networks which make millions and still struggle to provide first rate infrastructure in rural communities.
Of course, forcing networks to allow roaming in so–called not spots could create new issues.
Would there be extra charges for consumers when their phones hopped from EE to O2, for example?
Or would networks simply increase everyone’s bills in order to cover costs and ensure their profits don’t take a hit?
At a time when mobile and data access is becoming increasingly important, with the rise in home working a major factor, the Culture Secretary’s plans merit a cautious welcome.
But it’s how the networks will react to being forced into a position that will really show whether this problem can be fixed for good.
If it means users forking out more, expect an outcry from residents of rural areas who are already marginalised by all key parties.