Guardian Readers reply in their thousands as they attempt to map the country’s mobile blackspots…

Universal access to superfast internet on a mobile phone is finally becoming a reality. Or is it? All four British networks have begun switching on their 4G masts, but many customers complain they still struggle to get a 3G signal, or even make a phone call.

We asked readers to help map the country’s coverage blackspots, and the 1,600 responses show that whatever the reality, some people believe their existing service has deteriorated since their network switched on 4G.

“Three months ago I lost reception completely in my house,” says Dan Cecchini, whose contract is with Orange. “According to EE [Orange's parent company] it is because a 4G mast went live in my area.” Cecchini’s problem was solved when he was given a booster box to plug in at home, but customers of other networks are reporting similar issues.

Mike, a Vodafone subscriber from Cheddar in Somerset, says his village does not have 3G but uses the Edge service, which offers slower speeds but has always been reliable. Until now. “Since the launch of 4G in other parts of the country the performance of Edge has dropped off a cliff,” he says.

Mark Abraham, on O2 in the north London borough of Harrow, makes a similar observation. “O2 has had poor coverage since starting its 4G services provision,” he says. “What used to work doesn’t, and staff have a standard excuse for problems, blaming a transmitter fault and saying ‘wait until it’s been repaired’.”

In theory, the advent of 4G should mean a better service for most people; networks are investing in better equipment. Vodafone and O2 have promised that their superfast signal will reach into the living rooms of 98% of the population by the end of 2015, and EE reckons on achieving the target a year earlier, by the end of 2014.

Coverage will exceed what has been achieved in the decade since 3G was launched. Today, 80% of the population can get a signal from all of the four operators – EE, O2, 3 and Vodafone – but geographically it remains very patchy, with just 21% of the landmass being served by all four. Nearly 23% of the UK has no 3G at all, and in nearly 13% of the country making any kind of mobile call is impossible.

Joanna in Aberdeen, a city famous for its granite architecture, has been told her house may be the problem. She lives in the centre of town but both voice calls and internet are unreliable. “I contacted O2 about this and they have given me several excuses, including saying it is because I live in a granite building, and problems in the area, but they give no date of when it will be fixed, and it was due to the switchover from 3G to 4G.”

So why should the arrival of 4G impact other services? One answer is that networks have been reorganising their masts. In order to save money, Vodafone and O2 have a mast sharing deal which will increase each network’s coverage by 40%. They will share 18,500 masts, but remove around 2,500 to cut out duplication. Their services will reach more people, but some customers living near a decomissioned mast may suddenly lose coverage.

Source : The Guardian

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