We're all thirsty for mobile coverage

Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer, shares O2’s plan to deliver the best network service for our customers.

According to a report published in April 2014 from the WHO/Unicef monitoring program for the UK, it’s estimated that 98% of rural households have drinking water piped directly into their premises. For something that may be perceived as a ‘right to have’, it shows there are still challenges in bringing fresh water to 100% of the country.

Delivering ubiquitous mobile phone coverage presents similar challenges. All four UK operators cover up to 99% of the UK population for voice calls but there has been a lot of interest recently on what the mobile industry is doing to improve mobile phone coverage in rural areas. Reports from Ofcom and data from companies that test mobile phone services appear to show which operators have the best/worst signal in towns, cities and the countryside. Customers also have individual opinions based on their own service experience. It’s not surprising that they all say something different and as more reports are published this confusion will grow.

Clearly it’s in all our interests to create mobile phone infrastructure with the widest, deepest coverage possible. It’s a big factor for all mobile operators in driving customer satisfaction. But there are always going to be challenges to deliver a ubiquitous service.  Coverage ‘not-spots’ exist for a number of reasons particularly in rural areas where there can be restrictive planning and sometimes prohibitive costs to build the infrastructure including the delivery of electricity and ‘backhaul’ (the communications cables that link the mast into the core network). These aren’t excuses, they are real challenges that the industry faces.

At O2, we are alive to these challenges and are completely focused on delivering the best network service for our customers across 2G, 3G and 4G. We’re constantly improving our network and we are doing it faster than ever before.  When we launched our 3G service, we reached 16% outdoor population coverage in 12 months and, as we approach our 1st birthday since launching our 4G service, we have already delivered 43% outdoor population coverage in the same timeframe.  And at the same time, we’re upgrading our 2G and 3G services to provide additional network coverage and capacity to support how our customers use their mobile devices today – catching up on emails while out and about, ordering the weekly shop while on the bus or keeping up with the latest social media trends. We’ve also delivered a number of other initiatives such as O2 Wifi (with over 10 thousand hotspots across the UK), Tu Go (our free service that lets you use your O2 number on tablets and laptops via Wifi) and our network sharing agreement with Vodafone to improve connectivity and coverage for all our customers.

And we aren’t stopping there. By 2017 we will have invested over £3billion in upgrading our network delivering 2G, 3G and 4G indoor coverage to 98% of the population.

We are keen to engage with Government and the wider industry to identify a way of improving rural mobile coverage. The thirst for connectivity has never been greater along with higher customer expectations for network service. We’re in the business of helping customers connect to what really matters to them – whether it’s using their mobiles, tablets or other devices. And we are committed to delivering the infrastructure and services that support this.


Derek McManus

Chief Operating Officer, Telefónica UK