Why is my cell phone coverage in England so bad?
September 20, 2014 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I was recently in England, in Milton Keynes and then the Dartmoor area and Exeter, then into South Hampton. I was driven totally nuts by my cell phone barely having data signal even when I had full bars on "GPRS." Facebook was frozen until I got back to London and was on 3G, and google maps was useless most of the time because it couldn't get signal to map (even in Exeter - a city!). I have a US based iphone with Verizon, and was on the Vodaphone network. Is my inability to get enough data due to some problem with my phone/Vodaphone - or is this a problem all brits live with? I am particularly interested in any way to avoid this problem - I had a Nav system in the car this time, but probably won't next time I visit.
posted by gwen1234 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No idea about Milton Keynes, but Dartmoor is really rural, nobody has reception there (assuming you we're on the moor and not in a village).
posted by tinkletown at 1:25 PM on September 20, 2014

Response by poster: This was true for all the towns, and cities. Exeter (not rural) and up into london.
posted by gwen1234 at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2014

Best answer: I spent two years in the southwest UK and ditched my initial Vodafone plan for O2 because the service was so terrible even when I appeared to have good signal.

That said, in 2012 when I did the research, I found a stat that said only 13% of Britain's land mass has 3G coverage. I'm sure it's somewhat better now, but not fantastic (and not like the US). I always relied on a backup GPS in the southwest because of so many frequent dropouts in service. Not just you.
posted by olinerd at 1:58 PM on September 20, 2014

Yeah, it's just rubbish. I've never had a reliably good service with t-mobile/ee (which is the same network as Orange I think maybe?).

I live in London and I still have data and actual just phone reception black holes all over the place, that's if I don't spend days rebooting my phone while the service just craps out for no reason.
posted by symphonicknot at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2014

I have Verizon too and have to rely on the free wifi from the places that offer it ( usually takeaway) when I go to the UK.
posted by brujita at 2:49 PM on September 20, 2014

I'm on 3, and despite walking round some pretty rural areas, I always seem to have a signal. Most (all?) the big companies have maps showing where you're likely to get a signal and at what strength. Here is the one for 3. I can even get a 4g signal, despite the mast being the other side of a rather large hill to me. It's spotty, but it definitely works.

For what it's worth, my sister was on Talkmobile, an MVNO who ran on Vodaphone's network, and she seemed to get data without problems. I used to be on Giffgaff, who run on O2's network and speeds were always fine.
posted by Solomon at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2014

I suspect it's a bit of both: rural mobile coverage in the UK is, I'm gradually coming to realise, abysmal by international standards, but international roaming does also seem to add overhead to remaking connections which makes a dropped signal slower to recover, and data may well be being routed through Verizon's APN to add somewhat to the lag.

I'd suggest getting a local SIM next time to avoid one of those problems, because getting a signal in Southampton and Exeter shouldn't be a problem.
posted by ambrosen at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Expecting mobile coverage on Dartmoor is like expecting mobile coverage at the Grand Canyon. Dartmoor has ponies, not cell phone towers. This is a feature, not a bug.

Vodaphone has good national coverage, so if you're not getting data in Exeter I can only imagine it's some kind of low-priority roaming issue. I'd second ambrosen: try a local SIM?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought the same, and had the same experience with O2 in the UK. Very surprised at how bad the reception was generally, even in cities in the UK.
posted by ryanbryan at 3:29 AM on September 21, 2014

I have generally had better signal *on* the moor, rather than in villages. The villages tend to hide in valleys, which may or may not have a phone mast, whereas higher up you're going to get signal from *somewhere*. But that's mostly on the South side, so can't speak for the North. And I haven't been using data there, but probably wouldn't expect 3G.
posted by Lebannen at 11:10 AM on September 21, 2014

Best answer: Ever tried sending a quick Whatsapp from London Bridge at 6pm? It's impossible. And I'm looking up at The Shard with 20,000 of my newly acquired close personal friends.

Seriously we've gotten better coverage in the Arctic Circle (granted it was Finland) than we have in Dorset. Or Surrey. Or East Sussex, Bucks. is bad, forget about anything between Milton Keynes and Watford or anything west of Exeter.

I have no idea why it's so bad. But must say I recently switched from T-Mobile to O2 and O2' s coverage is definitely worse. Except in my house in London (zone 2 mind you, not half way to Dover or anything), which T-mobile struggled with.

It's just really crap?
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:17 PM on September 21, 2014

I lose 3G (let alone 4G) reliably for about 10 minutes of my train commute somewhere south of Milton Keynes. I wouldn't have thought it was that hard to supply, say, Leighton Buzzard with reliable coverage but apparently it just is. Maybe it's the name.

We went on holiday to a village near Eastbourne the other week. Also not remote: just east of Brighton. Was there 3G? Of course not!

Oh, that reminds me: somewhere else I've received better 3G and phone coverage than in many places in the UK: the village of Mhamid in Zagora Province, Southern Morocco. In the honest-to-God Sahara Desert.

For a nation with such a formidable reputation for complaint, Britain sure does have some terrible, terrible services. Mobile reception is just symptomatic of a larger problem. Try attempting to commute via Southeastern Rail, for instance ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody for the replies - I guess it really is just that bad.
posted by gwen1234 at 7:50 AM on September 23, 2014

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