With 23 million Brits still facing 4G issues, uSwitch says the advent of 5G is unlikely to help improve connectivity.
The consumer comparison watchdog warns that 5G won’t immediately solve Britain’s connectivity problems and urges the telecoms industry to better serve rural and remote communities.
New data from Opensignal and uSwitch reveals there are still issues connecting to 4G despite Ofcom claiming there is 66% of the UK covered by all major providers. A third (33%) of adult smartphone users — 17.1 million people — have trouble connecting to 4G at least once a week. This means that almost a third of the country still has to rely on a 3G signal — two generations behind the current cutting edge technology.
The UK’s major cities all have more than 80% 4G availability, according to Opensignal, however, there is still a digital divide, with poor connectivity in rural areas.
5G will only be available to a quarter (28%) of the country by the end of 2019, leaving most (72%) lagging behind.
The launch of 5G looks unlikely to solve the problem, as only 34 locations are due to get coverage by the end of 2019. These are cities or large urban areas, such as London and Cardiff. Customers in Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester will have the choice of three providers for 5G, but only one in seven users say they plan to upgrade to 5G in next year. A fifth of those surveyed believes 5G will improve their connectivity.
Only a fifth of people (19%) thinks 5G will improve connectivity, with almost a third (30%) thinking it will be more expensive, despite Vodafone and Three already announcing that their 5G services will be priced the same as 4G.
Despite connectivity issues, three quarters (73%) of phone users have not changed network in the past two years. A quarter (22%) of people have not changed network for more than five years, even though almost half of them continue to experience 4G issues.
With both national coverage and consumer experience of mobile services so variable, uSwitch.com is warning that 5G will not solve the problems that currently exist in rural areas, and is urging providers to work with communities to improve rural mobile coverage.
Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch.com, comments:
“With so many of us completely reliant on our smartphones these days for our news, work, shopping and social media updates, there is little more frustrating than being unable to connect to phone services which we pay for.
“The arrival of the next-generation infrastructure should help with some of the problems currently experienced by 4G users, but this will not be an overnight solution, in particular as fewer than one in seven of us is planning to upgrade to 5G in the next year.
“However, the industry cannot use the launch of 5G as a band-aid to cover up the shortcomings of 4G. Providers must work with communities to improve connectivity, especially in rural areas, to prevent millions of people being left stranded on technology two generations out of date.
“Unless networks improve their coverage in rural areas, the risk is that 5G will make the same mistakes as 4G and predominantly serve the cities at the expense of more rural areas of the country.”
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