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No more 'not spots' - let's get Cheshire connected

Huge sums of money have been spent in recent years on improving mobile phone reception in Britain’s shire counties.

Yet despite being home to some of the UK’s hardest hitting businesses with a global reach and reputation, parts of Cheshire are still languishing in the technological dark ages.

It’s years now since the big phone operators switched on their 4G masts, but many businesspeople complain they still frequently struggle to get even a 3G signal, or make a phone call of any kind from their vehicle which doesn’t cut off mid-conversation.

Connectivity is everything to the modern-day economy. When you are competing internationally, not simply domestically, the ability to be online 24/7 if the need arises is a must, wherever you are.

That’s why West Cheshire and North Wales Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with the British Chambers of Commerce to launch a campaign for ‘No More Not Spots’.

The aim is to rid the area of blackspots for voice coverage where phone users live, work, travel and play.

The campaign is seeking to bring together business communities and those involved in delivering coverage to identify coverage challenges and work through solutions to improve poor mobile coverage.

Not spots - and possibly even more frustratingly the areas of partial not spots where signals flicker in and out – can seriously hamper the competitiveness of companies in counties such as Cheshire.

Last time the BCC surveyed companies, it found that a fifth of them said the UK mobile phone network didn’t meet their needs in accessing new and existing customers, suppliers and employees.

Despite welcome investment in geographic coverage for voice and text, not spots still exist, even in dense commercial centres, road and rail corridors where access issues, the built environment, and the economics of new infrastructure can combine to weaken coverage and frustrate network rollout.

We’re now around two months into the campaign, and several not spot areas have already been reported across parts of Cheshire.

From the city centre of Chester to several points along the A55 and on the mainline train network to Crewe, campaigners say it is obvious that this issue is having an impact on the day-to-day lives of people in West Cheshire.

Financial planning company Rosebridge Ltd is one such example, citing troubles with poor mobile signal in its city centre office in Chester since opening in September 2017.

The company thought that a strong mobile connection in a city centre could be taken for granted, but found this couldn’t have been further from the case.

The listed nature of the building meant that they could not fit an external antenna - which has caused real problems for the business.

Jane O’Hara, chartered financial planner at the company’s base in St Nicholas Street, said: “As a new business starting up in Chester, it has cost us clients and time sorting this out and we still do not have a satisfactory solution.

“It is farcical that any major city centre, in this time does not have the most up to date digital infrastructure.”

Colin Brew, chief executive of West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce, says this case study merely highlights the urgency of the issue.

“A reliable mobile phone signal is one of the most basic requirements for any business, as more and more conversations and transactions take place while people are on the go.

“Unfortunately, dropped calls and poor signal remains an issue in many areas across our region.

“Working together, business, communities and operators can identify key gaps in coverage and find shared solutions to resolve the real-world connection problems many business communities face.

“Our message to all businesses is simple: share and report mobile not spots – so that together we can take action to improve reliable coverage for the future.”

From the time that cell phone services were first introduced in the UK to the present day, official figures show that locations with signal coverage have grown from a handful of urban areas to around 98% of UK premises.

The UK’s major mobile network operators have invested heavily to deliver against their licence obligation.

Widnes-based building contractor Paul Reynolds says: “I’m on the road often, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that we’re nowhere near to the reported 98% coverage in the Cheshire area – certainly not if you are talking about a reliable, useable signal.

“Road and rail corridors ought to be prioritised for the use of commuting business people, but this seems to be where signals are most likely to drop out.

“Even on our A-roads and motorways, it’s hardly a 21st century service. I’ve had problems with phone signals dropping out on the A49, the A41, and the M56 – hardly the back of beyond.”

The reasons for patchy coverage are many and varied: from building and vehicle design to the number and location of masts and cells, the topography of the built and natural landscapes, and technologies in phones. 

The aim of the No More Not Spots campaign is to engage with local chamber business communities to identify gaps in coverage, and work constructively with industry and government to resolve the issues locally.

Over the next year, chambers of commerce plan to engage with business communities and those involved in delivering coverage by holding a series of events. There’s a #shareyournotspots Twitter handle for anyone who wants to highlight their experiences.

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, says: “A reliable mobile phone signal is one of the most basic requirements for any business, as more and more conversations and transactions take place while people are on the go. Unfortunately, dropped calls and poor signal remains an issue in many areas across the UK.  

“Our campaign will be constructive and focused on solutions. While we’ll press for investment and services improvements, we’ll work with mobile operators and all parties with a stake in getting this right across the UK.

“Working together, business, communities and operators can identify key gaps in coverage and find shared solutions to resolve the real-world connection problems many business communities face.

“Our message to all businesses is simple: share and report mobile not spots – so that together we can take action to improve reliable coverage for the future. The UK’s future prosperity depends on getting the fundamentals right here at home – and a push for reliable, dependable and consistently improving mobile connectivity is the perfect place to start.”

 

http://www.jlauassociates.com

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