99 % Mobile Broadband Coverage- What it Really Means

  • Added:
    Jan 24, 2014
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Turnébuss 4G
Turnébuss 4G
Photo by Per Olof Forsberg

Have you seen ninety nine per cent mobile broadband coverage advertised? In this article we are getting to the heart of the coverage issue, explaining to you what it really means, and telling you why that ninety nine per cent coverage claim may be a little misleading.

Mobile Broadband and How it Works
So that you can understand the coverage issue, you are first going to need to understand how mobile broadband works, and this is quite simple. Rather than relying on a cable or a Wi-Fi signal, with mobile broadband you use a mobile phone operator's network to get you online. This means that you purchase a SIM card and use this to go on the Internet. You will either insert that SIM directly into your tablet or laptop, or use something like a mobile dongle to connect the SIM.

Mobile broadband means that you can take your Internet connection with you wherever you go, and this is the reason most people choose to get connected in this way. Because you are using a mobile phone operator's signal the issues surrounding mobile broadband coverage are very similar to the ones surrounding mobile phone coverage.

How Mobile Phone and Mobile Broadband Coverage Works
Coverage refers to which areas of the country can access an operator's network. Operators build mobile phone towers which broadcast their signal; your device then picks up that signal to get you online- or in the case of phones to let you call and text. Where there are lots of towers you will get greater service, where there are fewer towers you will get a not so good service, and maybe even no service at all.

The problem lies in the fact that not all operators will have the same number of towers in any given area. That means that coverage can vary between operators depending on where you are. There is another important issue regarding coverage, however, and that is exactly which kind of network you are talking about.
All mobile operators in the country have both 2G and 3G networks. These are the kinds of networks most commonly used for phone service and therefore for mobile broadband service. Some operators also have another kind of network, called 4G, though not all companies will offer you this option. Coverage will vary depending on which of these networks you want to connect to.

Why You Do Not Have 99 % Coverage, and What Coverage You Do Have
The reason that the ninety nine per cent coverage claim is misleading is that it does not refer to all kinds of networks. It is true that all of the UK operators offer ninety nine per cent coverage on a 2G network, and that is the basis of the claim, however, whilst a 2G network is fine for phone calls and text messages it has extremely limited data speeds and is not used for mobile broadband due to this fact.

You are going to be interested in 3G and 4G networks to move data to and from your device, and coverage is certainly not ninety nine per cent with these networks, though in some cases it is pretty close. What is coverage like with these networks then?

The closest that you are going to get with a 3G network is with EE, who do have ninety eight per cent coverage. Other operators are not quite that good. T-Mobile, Orange and Three can all boast ninety three per cent coverage, and TalkMobile is close to that with ninety per cent coverage. The other major operators though, Vodafone, O2 and Virgin all only offer around eighty per cent coverage in the UK.

If you are looking at 4G coverage then the numbers are even lower. EE again is offering the best coverage in this area, supplying around one hundred urban areas with a 4G connection. Vodafone and O2's 4G networks both cover around fifteen towns and cities. Three's 4G network is the newest infrastructure and currently only four cities in the country have access to this network.

Finding Your Coverage and Why This Matters (or not)
If you want a mobile broadband plan then you really do need to find out which operators are going to offer the best coverage in your area, because you obviously want the best service and the fastest data speeds that you can get. Establishing which operator gives the best coverage in your area is relatively simple.
Firstly, go to the OFCOM website (you will find it here) and look at a comparative coverage map. This will let you know which operators have the best coverage in your area. You can then go to each of these operator's web pages and check out their coverage strength individually by giving them your post code.

Does this coverage really matter? The answer is yes and no. O2 claims around eighty per cent 3G coverage, which might not seem like a lot. You must realise, however, that operators obviously want as many customers as possible, and therefore this eighty per cent coverage is going to refer to the more densely populated parts of the country. The areas without coverage are likely to be far flung and without many inhabitants.

If you live in a city or town, or close to one, you are probably going to get good coverage with nearly any operator. It is those who live in extremely rural locations who really have the problem when it comes to coverage, often finding that only one or two operators can get them service.

This does not mean that you should not check though. On the off chance that you do not get coverage with the operator who you sign up with then you are not going to be able to use your mobile broadband plan efficiently and may not be able to use it at all. If you do not get coverage and you have already signed a contract, then your options are going to be fairly limited. Some operators do allow penalty free cancellation if you prove you do not get service, but this is likely to be complicated and time consuming, so take a few minutes to check coverage before signing.

Author's Profile

Mobile broadband coverage was the main deciding factor for Phil Turner when he was looking for a new provider.

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