The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has taken aim at an issue that contractors run into on a daily basis, and that many find holds back their business. The business lobby group’s campaign targets mobile “not spots” – the patches of the country where phone coverage is weak or even non-existent.
The phenomenon is as old as mobile phones, but with the rise of mobile technology and remote working, poor signal availability is no longer a niche issue, explains Adam Marshall, the BCC’s director general. “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,” Dr Marshall insists. “Unfortunately, dropped calls and poor signal remains an issue in many areas across the UK.”
Poor mobile connectivity, often in areas that also lack high-speed landline broadband, is often a factor limiting freelance contractors’ ability to work remotely, and can limit the ability to stay on top of a project outside of core business hours. For other businesses, too, the issue impacts productivity. Scott Roberts, who runs Polar Technology, an Oxfordshire based firm, explains the impact of working in a massive blackspot: “We can hardly get a signal in the office or factory, and in almost every direction for 20 miles the signal is so weak it drops out during a call. This is destroying our productivity as we rely on mobile phones to communicate and gets things done, especially when our management teams are on the move.”
While “not spots” are a nationwide issue, affecting both cities and rural areas – indeed BCC research suggests a fifth of British firms experience problems – the crisis is more pronounced in the countryside, and the economic impact in those areas is staggering. A recent study by Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College, commissioned by Amazon, suggests that poor rural connectivity is losing the UK economy up to £26bn a year in gross value added.
For some rural firms mobile no-go zones mean that customers cannot even find them. “Mobile coverage continues to be unreliable in our area, and no one in business likes unreliability. Poor coverage can mean missed bookings if customers can’t get through to us,” says Justin Everley, MD at Surf Snowdonia, a north Wales tourist attraction. “Visitors to the region may also need to rely on mobile phone signal to navigate to us, if they get lost and want to make a call, they can be stuck with no coverage.”
The BCC’s campaign is aimed at more than raising awareness; the organisation is calling for businesses to report “not spots” through their website, so that they can work to solve the problem. “Our campaign will be constructive and focused on solutions,” Dr Marshall promises. “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.”