Coverage – rears it’s ugly head again

comparing UK HSDPA coverage

Way back, when I used  to be a  mobile phone man (in the days when there was only Cellnet and Vodafone) the constant battle for customers was all about coverage.

by the way a typical deal was £300 for the cellphone £25 a month and then 25p per minute peak 10p off peak ( Primetime for business customers ) no inclusive minutes and barely anyone used texts so I don’t remember the costs

Both companies had to reach a 99% population coverage by a certain time to maintain their licenses and there seemed to be a bit of a competition in areas to get  a degree of exclusivity. Certain areas were always Vodafone and others Cellnet ( IIRC Vodafone used to edge it normally). The companies  were also very precious about cell sites and that, and the specially relaxed planning regs for their kit, is the reason for the proliferation of antennae across our countryside.

My customers often used to buy based more on what worked where, than what the handset looked like and there actually used to be a preference for big old Motorolas over their slimmer rivals as the monsters worked more places and had a massive ariel ( Americans will know what one of these looks like on a cellphone as we’ve grown out of them over here ;) )

Anyway by the time I left the world of Mobiles behind, there were four players (0ne20ne Orange, Vodafone and Cellnet)  and the coverage argument had died it’s death it was all about inclusive minutes and the beginning of value added services as the driver.

Recently I’ve been doing some work for a customer on a rapid deployment solution for areas that are difficult to get traditional comm’s into, the plan is to use HSDPA as a network connection and provide back link VPN to the office over the radio spectrum.  we use HSDPA as a means to enable true flexible working as well as you can get speeds of up to 1.8 Mbps from a Cellular connection, truly independent working.

so,  guess what?  Coverage is back on the agenda, so I though it would be useful to summarise the HSDPA coverage claimed by the various MSPs.

Orange HSDPA Coverage:

Orange HSDPA coverage doesn’t actually feature separately on their coverage map as they don’t have a UK wide service,  they call it Orange 3G+ (probably the best product name) and according to their website they ‘ have launched 3G+ in London and will soon be bringing it to the UK’s other major cities‘  their overall coverage claim is that they have the largest integrated 3/2.5G network in the UK (nicely spun)

they do offer EDGE in the UK though

no 3G+ coverage abroad but a fair number of 3G / GPRS & EDGE partners who are listed here

Vodafone HSDPA Coverage:

Vodafone HSDPA coverage can be found here you need to select the Mobile Data Map and 3G Broadband options although as everyone has been describing 3G as broadband speeds on your mobile this name muddies the waters a little. Vodafone win the prize for the most down to earth and honest statement of coverage – maybe  a hangover from when they knew they ruled the roost

Globally Vodafone offer 3G Broadband coverage in 12 countries it can be pricey though.

O2 HSDPA (lack of) Coverage:

O2 HSDPA coverage is non existent, they do mention the fact that they had the first UK GPRS network and they are rolling out 3G and WLAN (no good people you can’t afford to be behind this curve) their coverage data is found here

3 HSDPA (lack of) Coverage:

3 HSDPA coverage is also absent as they too don’t offer HSDPA they get more of a paragraph than O2 as they have the nastiest sting in the unlimited tail I’d suggest this is because 3 don’t actually own a 2G network, they have in country roaming agreements with existing MSPs

they also get more fingertip skin expended (positively this time) as they allow you to use  your 3G datacard in the 7 countries in which they own a network at the same rates and tariff as at home (nice touch – MUCH MORE OF THIS PLEASE).

T-Mobile HSDPA Coverage:

in conversation T-mobile claim the highest penetration of 3G in the UK and claim 99.4% population coverage (maybe optimistic, and no such claims on the website). They do have the best limited unlimited options available and bundle WiFi access to their 1500 hotspots with 300 openzone roaming minutes a month ( at least until the end of March 2007).

Streetcheck gives street by street coverage – and actually shows some of the deadspots I know to exist so they probably win on honesty here,  but beware it inflicted the BSOD on my notebook when trying to zoom out on the map.

we’re assessing T-Mobile and Vodafone so expect some feedback over the next few weeks.

by the way…. points to anyone who doesn’t have to google TSCR and E-TACS


8 Responses to Coverage – rears it’s ugly head again

  1. Holt says:

    Thanks for this post. Just browsing for some info on HSDPA coverage in the UK and this was very useful.

  2. alasdairford says:

    glad to be of help Holt and thanks for the acknowledgement

    a couple of things you should also consider depending on your particular application:

    1) latency which can have a massive bearing on usability – I’ve recently done a survey of all teh UK HSDPA providers and frankly the end to end performance is awful – downloading email faster than GPRS is great but anything realtime is painful to the point of unusability. TBH there’s a threefold improvemnet over latency on GPRS but it’s still mostly in the 300ms mark to UK servers.

    2) speed of travel: end user speed makes a massive difference to performance with HSDPA – because of the way the network optimises performance travelling over 35kph can actually cause degredation of throughput over regular 3G – not great for the train :(


  3. Roy Badami says:

    You don’t say so explicitly, but it’s worth pointing out that T-Mobile claim on their website that their entire 3G coverage is HSDPA-enabled.

    Oh, and that 25p/minute (+VAT) peak rate? It effectively applied all the time, because peak was defined as 6am-10pm Monday to Saturday! And we all caried spare batteries around with us, because you’d be lucky to get a whole day’s standby out of the phone…

    Text messages were 10p+VAT back then, I think – and generally didn’t work between networks. (Or at least not between UK networks – they sometimes did between roaming partners.)

    I had a Sony CM-R111 back then – no display, so-so radio performance, but size of a pack of cigarettes!


  4. alasdairford says:

    hi Roy

    I’d take the T-mobile claims with a pinch of salt you can’t actually have all the coverage HSDPA enabled as the boundaries of the network can’t have access to adjacent cells, all the sites may be but again in practice this means little, the T-mobile service was pretty flaky out in the sticks.

    There were all kindsof vagueries with earlier mobiles – I have a Motorola 3200 international which is still going strong and that can receive but not send texts :) .. I’d forgottn about the excessive peak times as well, and the spare batteries were a must. I used to favour extended batteries, when was the last time anyone saw one of those?

    is the CMr111 the one with the flip down mic boom? – we used to get loads back with user damage and then there was teh Ericsson EH and GH 111 – monstrosities both and the EH was the colour of vomit … ah those were the days :)

  5. Roy Badami says:

    Not sure I understand the bit about access to adjacent cells, but if you’re saying I’m not going to get HSDPA out at the edges of 3G coverage, then I guess that makes sense. I’ve always been wary of T-Mobile coverage – I’m sure you must remember the early days when One2One didn’t work at all outside London! – but so far I’ve found their GSM coverage fine, although their 3G coverage out in the sticks is patchy in places.

    Yeah, the CM-R111 was the one with the boom. I imagine mine would still work, if I could actually find an ETACS network to connect it to…

  6. alasdairford says:

    mmm fortunately E-TACS is long gone and buried, I remember being able to ring the operator and get them to reconnect your call if it dropped – happy days.

    HSDPA can use available capacity on adjacent cells so if you are in an area with higher density of cellsites then theoretically you can get a better throughput, theoretically being the operative word. I think processing this overlap is what calls the dramatic reduction in performance if you are travelling at any kind of speed, I’d have to look at my notes.

  7. Rob says:

    I have just got a Vario III on T-Mobile with their Web N’ Walk package. Having spoken to customer services for 1/2 hour I was told that HSDPA is enabled by default.

    I have tried the phone in several different locations around London and haven’t been able to get an HSDPA connection once. The fastest connection I have had is 300 Kbit/s, with HSDPA this should be more like 1000 Kbit/s. Not that this is really a problem in most situations, its just browsing some forums it would seem I am not the only one with this problem. I can’t help but feel that they are telling porkies about their coverage.

    There is of course the possibility that all of the transmitters are HSDPA enabled, but because they have a lot of connections they downgrade to standard 3G. Little point in having it then as far as I am concerned. Too many of T-Mobiles policies (like banning VoIP and IM) are starting to make them look far less attractive as a service provider.

  8. Dave says:

    I use T-Mobile’s web n walk on my laptop, but only for the next three months. They included a £15 per month offer with my £29 bill and won’t let me swap. I reckon that’s poor marketing. The service is not that brilliant either. The connection hops between GPRS, 3G and HSDPA continually.

    I shall now have a nostalgic daydream of my original NEC P3

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