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Ofcom must tackle 'deplorable' mobile coverage, says Lord Adonis

In certain areas of the UK, you can't make a 90-second call without interruption, new figures show.

Eilean donan castle sunrise from a drone
Scotland fares particularly badly when it comes to mobile coverage.
Getty Images

To phone users in the UK, it won't come as much of a surprise to hear this, but now it's confirmed: Mobile coverage around the country is officially rubbish.

Urgent and radical action is needed to rectify the issue, Lord Adonis, head of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), said Monday in a letter to regulator Ofcom.

New figures from an NIC investigation showed that large parts of the country may not be getting even the most basic mobile services that would allow people to make a 90-second call without interruption. Ofcom should "put all options on the table," including possible regulatory or legal changes, to improve coverage ahead of the next spectrum auction, Adonis said.

"In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded as a must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call," he said in a statement.

Other findings from the NIC show that 4G coverage is available in just 43 percent of the UK covered by all four mobile operators. When it comes to calls and texts, only 70 percent of the UK gets a signal from all four carriers. Scotland fares worst of all. Just 40 percent of Scotland has mobile service available from all four companies.

"We completely agree that mobile coverage must urgently improve, which will take concerted action from industry, government and the regulator," Ofcom Chief Technology Officer Steve Unger said in a statement. 

"We're playing our part by enforcing rules for better coverage, and preparing to set new rules in operators' licences," he said. Unger added that the regulator was also boosting the capacity of mobile networks by releasing new airwaves and helping to improve coverage on trains -- one of the commitments made by the government in the autumn budget last month.

First published, Dec. 18 at 12:48 p.m. GMT.
Update, 2:28 p.m. GMT: Adds statement from Ofcom.