3G network coverage across the UK is woefully incomplete, according to the results of an experiment carried out by the BBC using data generated from Android smartphone users.
A total of 44,600 volunteers downloaded an application developed by testing firm Epitiro that automatically sent back data on 2G and 3G coverage. The app generated 42 million results revealing that only 75 per cent of connections are 3G.
Gavin Johns, chief executive of Epitiro, told V3 that the results were to be expected, and that the experiment will continue in order to provide more insight into the UK's mobile networks.
"The results, with 75 per cent of users accessing 3G networks, were broadly what we expected to see, with cities covered in 3G signals but very little in rural areas," he said.
"We intend to continue to run the experiment in the future, and would ask those that downloaded the application to leave it on their device, and we will measure other data in the future such as capacity and speeds."
Johns added that an iPhone and BlackBerry application will be launched in the coming months to increase the scope of the test.
However, mobile operators questioned the results, arguing that a sample survey of just 45,000 Android users, compared with the millions of smartphone users across the UK, does not provide a true picture of their networks.
A spokesperson for Three claimed that there are problems with the BBC's map that need to be considered, and that it is biased towards the larger network operators.
"The app gives customers a snapshot of where some people in their area have been with their Android smartphone, but does not map the extent of mobile coverage," the spokesperson said.
"Three has the UK's largest 3G network but, as a newer operator with fewer customers, is necessarily less well represented on this map at a local level."
O2 argued that, while the results are interesting, they do not show any information on the quality of the customer experience when using a 3G connection.
"The issue of coverage is no longer about covering the land mass to meet a percentage target, but about depth and quality of experience," a spokesperson said.
"The results don't show the experience on each network. Simply having coverage does not guarantee a good service."
Vodafone added that it was "an interesting experiment in crowd-sourcing data", while Everything Everywhere had yet to reply to V3.
The digital divide for fixed internet access has been mapped by Ofcom, again underlining the work that needs to be done to improve the availablity of access in rural regions.
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