Most of us at some point have experienced problems with our mobile phone signal and broadband speeds. Before you enter into a phone or broadband contract, it’s worth checking the coverage and speed you are likely to expect, and understanding the factors that can affect them.
What affects mobile phone signals?
Mobile phone signals vary in different areas and between different providers. Some networks, like EE, have better coverage in certain places than others.
Signals can also be affected by geographical factors such as trees or hills, or man-made obstructions like buildings, that can get in the way of the signal between the nearest mast and your device. Being inside a building, or even which room you are in, can also have an effect; for example, it may be more difficult to get a strong signal in a basement than elsewhere in the house. Your signal may also be weaker if you are in a building with particularly thick walls.
You can also experience problems at different times of day. During the busiest periods, more of the people who share the same mobile phone mast are using the network, so each signal will not be as strong. It is also true that, no matter how new your phone is, some phones have better signals than others.
What affects mobile broadband coverage?
All of the factors that affect mobile voice calls can also affect broadband coverage and data speeds on mobile devices. However, mobile internet strength and speed is even more variable due to the different types of devices and coverage available. Not all of the UK has 4G capability yet, and many handsets are not capable of accessing 4G. If you do not have a 4G optimised handset, you will not be able to achieve the fastest data speeds on your mobile. Even on a 4G handset, if there is no 4G coverage in a particular area, your phone will automatically revert to 3G.
There are still some areas of the UK where only 2G coverage is available, depending upon which mobile provider you are with. You can still make voice calls using 2G, but any internet connection you can get is likely to be extremely slow and unreliable.
What affects fixed broadband speeds?
The speed of your fixed broadband depends upon your provider, the area you live in, and whether you have Standard or Superfast broadband. Standard broadband is usually defined as a broadband connection that operates at speeds of 30 Mbit/second or less. Superfast broadband connections operate between 30 and 300 Mbit/second, using optical fibres to achieve these higher speeds.
Some providers offer faster broadband than others, and service provision can depend on what type of connections are available in your area.
How to check mobile signals and broadband speeds
Most mobile phone and broadband providers offer coverage checkers on their websites. These give you the average signal strengths and speeds you can expect to receive in a particular area of the UK. However, they are not always accurate as they tend to make assumptions about a number of factors including the type of handsets people are using, and that they will be making calls outside rather than indoors.
These coverage checkers are still worth using if you are considering taking out a new mobile phone or broadband contract with a particular provider. However, Ofcom provides a map using data from all four mobile network operators in the UK (EE, Vodafone, Three and O2), and five of the main broadband providers, showing mobile signal strengths and broadband speeds throughout the UK.
The Ofcom map allows you to enter your postcode or a place name, or zoom to a specific location to receive information about coverage and speeds. The map is colour coded to show different signal strengths for 3G and 4G, and the different strengths indoors and outdoors in each area.
In order to calculate likely mobile signals, Ofcom uses predicted signal levels supplied by the four UK network operators, and then test signals in various locations to get an average. It also takes into account customer feedback.
The Ofcom map also allows you to see average broadband strengths in your area, using data provided by five of the main internet providers. Calculations are made using data collected on the same day from each provider, for both Standard and Superfast connections.
You can find the Ofcom map at http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/check-coverage/.
What to do if you are not receiving the service you expected
Before you enter into a mobile phone or broadband contract, it is worth checking both the coverage checker on your provider’s website and the Ofcom map, although bear in mind these may differ slightly from each other.
If the service you receive is not as good as stated or expected, you can usually cancel your contract for up to two weeks after you purchased it. If you experience problems at a later date, it is worth contacting your provider, as they may be able to solve the problem for you.