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Most reliable UK mobile network?

For those of you that frequent the Lake District, Peninnes & Welsh regions, which mobile network are you using & what is your experience when it comes to coverage?

I’m thinking about changing my mobile contract or maybe getting a separate 4g/5g hotspot (on a different network from my mobile) for use in the caravan while I am away.

Having recently got back from a trip to the Lake District, I was unable to get a useable signal from many of the summits or the campsite.

I also found that my signal was often weak or unreliable on a previous trip to the Peninnes & in some parts of Wales.

I realise that the Lake District is well known to have very patchy mobile coverage & coverage is likely to be hit & miss on all of the networks in mountainous terrain such as the Lake District, the Peninnes & Wales but I wondered what other people’s experience was & if any of the networks faired better than the others in these areas?

I’m currently on Three. I’ve generally been very happy with the service but have noticed that as soon as I leave civilisation the signal plummets & becomes a bit hit & miss.

My partner really seems to like O2 & often still gets a useable signal when I cannot.

I’ve heard that Vodafone has very good coverage (but I’ve also heard a lot of bad things about their customer service).

I’ve heard a few people moan about EE’s coverage with a similar theme to Three.

I guess that I’m swaying towards O2, even if it is a little more expensive.

Your thoughts & experiences?

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Hi James,
I can’t give specific Lake District related guidance but I will say for years - ever since I was living in Australia, I have used dual SIM phones enabling me to have two pre-paid SIMs on different networks (in Australia it was Optus and Telstra, over here in Germany Vodafone and Telekom). We also have O2 (Telefonica) here as the third network but of the three networks, it has the least coverage at the moment.
What I have recently found out is just choosing the best networks is only one factor. With 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G coverage - you need to consider which frequency bands are being used and make sure the phone (or tablet in my latest case) covers the correct bands as in regional areas other bands are often used that in the cities. In Germany, all three networks are decommissioning their 3G equipment to re-use the space in the huts and on the masts for 5G equipment. In regional areas frequencies are getting re-used as well. With 4G (LTE) in the country often the old CDMA 850MHz band is used to give a better range than the 1800/2000 MHz bands. This “Band 20” is not used internationally for 4G/LTE so if you have some phones or tablets in regional Germany they will drop back to 2G datalinks (very, very slow) when 3G is gone.
So I suggest you check which bands are used by the networks available in the areas you wish to go to AND get a dual SIM phone (or “Phablet”) and SIM cards for two of the available networks in the area.
Interestingly some of the cheap Chinese phones/tablets cover the correct frequency bands - but not all do. Phones sold or leased by the phone companies “should” cover the correct frequency bands for the regions they are used to be in but not many are dual SIM and in some cases, the phone is locked to the one network taking away the advantage of dial-SIMs.

If you can work out a postcode and address in the lake district this website from Ofcom will indicate which companies should have mobile data coverage:

https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/en-gb/mobile-coverage

It doesn’t show full information though - this crowdsourced one is the one that I use -

And I see a lot of the towers in the UK use the Band 20 - the recycled CDMA frequencies as well - so you’ll need a phone with Band 20 (850MHz) frequency coverage if your phone doesn’t have it at the moment.

73 Ed.

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From a source in Emergency Planning - EE is the UK network to go for, as the Police will be using this for their next comms system, when they move over from Airwave.

I’ve certainly noticed that when I attend forest rallies, the EE coverage is good where there was once none.

73, Fraser

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I have a dual SIM phone, my primary network is EE and my back up SIM is Vodafone, which I obtained especially for SOTA, I thought that I might as well fill the spare SIM slot.

My experience is that I can’t count on phone signal on any of the summits, the problem was explained by Andy MM0FMF in a different thread, there’s just too many cell sites these days, meaning that if you’re high up you can ‘see’ too many. I did hear about someone making a ‘corner reflector’ to try to block signals from certain directions (a cardboard box covered in foil). I’ve never tried that technique.

Back in medieval times, I remember that Vodafone used a lower frequency (somewhere around 900MHz?) and Orange (EE) used a higher frequency (1800MHz?) meaning that Vodafone was better at penetrating into buildings etc. I’m not sure that that is still the case.

Bottom line from my experience neither EE or Vodafone can be relied upon in Yorkshire Dales or Lake District.

Colin

Having worked for a mobile operator.

The solution for difficult to cover users on big customer contracts was to issue a Isle of Man SIM. The user could then roam onto any of the networks thus giving the illusion of better coverage. This was done to secure major contracts.

At an individual user level I don’t know about the costs and legal difficulties of obtaining a SIM for a country you are not resident in…

The other thing to note is many cell sites have the antennas tilted down to limit the area of coverage. We did get customer complaints that the upper floor in tower blocks had poor coverage, this tilting of the antennas being one of the reasons. The cellular network should be thought of as a lot of upside down saucers. The network is not intended to cover the sky.

The licenses (and revenue) for the mobile networks are driven by % population coverage. There are some geographic coverage requirements but in remote areas these are achived by keeping the costs down with site and mast shareing. e.g. Voda / O2

73 de

Andrew G4VFL

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Me. I did that years ago. It did work. Very light and easy to make.

As Andrew alludes, the mobile network isn’t designed to work when you’re on a summit. The fact it does most of the time is a bonus.

If you want to place SOTA spots.

You can improve your chances by have a multi SIM phone.
You can use your body and phone’s position with passive reflectors to optimise phone signal.
You can try and aim your phone at a major road, coverage is better on major roads in rural areas.
You can use a satellite messenger.
You can use APRS.
You can setup a mobile access point in your car.

Satellite should always work. But it’s pricey for that convenience. In the UK a flexible InReach plan is £35/yr admin charge plus £15/mth for 10 messages plus unlimited preset messages. You can stop and start the account on a 30day period so you only pay for service when you need it. Extra messages are £0.50 each. It’s a lot of money TBH, £50 for 1st 10 spots! If I was buying now, I’d buy a GPSMAP 66 as it’s a nice hi spec mapping GPS with InReach, only £550 though :frowning:

There’s fun to be had making a mobile access point. APRS to the car, mobile phone network from there. Raspberry PI with a USB sound card for the APRS / Packet and Bluetooth/USB from the Pi to control the phone (an old phone you upgraded from will probably do). You’re going to have to write some software yourself. You’ll still need to be sure you have access to a network from the car! Or HF APRS from the car is an idea (not sure how much HF APRS remains). Or leverage the ability to make use of QO-100 but you’ll need two QO-100 stations… one remote in the car and one at home to inject your spot message.

Or use CW and operate near the QRP frequencies for old school activating and expect RBNhole to spot you too.

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Problem solved! :wink:

On a serious note: I find using the UK self-spotting SMS text server usually works when my iPhone [talkmobile] status degrades from “3G” to “LTE” presumably cos the latter can still handle text messaging with weak signals, although it can take a while [judging by the delay sometimes from sending the text to it showing on the SOTA spot list].

Re switching the phone temporarily in and out of airplane mode, I find this is often also good in remote areas for waking my iphone Google Maps app out of its ‘no network’ negative thinking.

Hi James,

I use EE and Vodafone both have issues depending on the summit. EE is my monthly contract and loses network on about 5-10% of the summits. Vodafone is a PAYG (no data) and gets a text signal on about 50% of the summits that EE doesn’t.

Your location on the summit also makes a difference for example on Dale Head, Robinson and High Raise recently operating my location didn’t get a network signal on either until I stood and moved. On EE often my data connection is either E or at best H+.

Good thing about Vodafone as a backup is the topup doesn’t expire after a month as it can do on other network PAYG.

Neil G0WPO

Back in the olden days when I worked in tech, I used to repair tower mounted amplifiers (TMAs). The TMAs were often damaged by lightning or water ingress, it was my job to patch them up.

Some of the TMAs had a special additional pass band for data, to allow remote switching on and off (bypass) and to control the tilt mechanism on the antenna. The antennas could be remotely aimed as needed (presumably away from SOTA operators and towards population areas!)

A pointless nugget of information I just thought I’d share :laughing:

Colin

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Yep - Emergency Services Network (ESN). This Home Office project picked EE as the transmission network provider. They are contracted to provide fill in to many locations not currently covered. But it is going to take a while. The contract requires virtually 100% coverage of all public highways (no matter how minor).

Also, this may help in future too.
https://srn.org.uk/

From and O2 press release.

O2, Three and Vodafone will partner to build and share 222 new mobile masts to boost rural coverage across the United Kingdom and deliver the first stage of the Shared Rural Network* (SRN).

This programme of investment will increase coverage in each of the UK nations. 124 new sites will be built in Scotland, 33 in Wales, 11 in Northern Ireland, and 54 in England, with each operator leading on 74 of the new sites.

The construction of the new masts will commence in 2021 and is scheduled to be completed by 2024 in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom.

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There are a number of mobile masts springing up along the A93 in Upper Deeside and over Glenshee. They stand out from the norm due to the large 1.5m (ish) satellite dish sitting alongside.

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t’other way round… LTE is the upgrade from 3G.

The original reason for SMS in preference to data was on 2G systems, SMS data was carried in the basic sync messages between phone and tower. So if you got a signal on a 2G phone (i.e. network name appeared and signal strength meter working) it’s almost 100% guaranteed you could send/receive texts. It’s sooooo very long since I looked at 3G and LTE I can’t remember where in the hierarchy the SMS message fits in all the signalling between the phone and base station. Empirically, I have often found on I can send SMS when unable to successfully make a data connection work. But in the last 2yrs, my network (Three) shows 4G reception and data working on more and more Scottish summits so I don’t have to send as many SMS as I used to for spotting.

I had an old Blackberry, it was my son’s when all teenagers used Blackberry messenger as it was free unlike data/texts. But I noticed it was no longer holding charge as well and then I couldn’t get the battery hatch to close… battery had swelled as it died. The Lithium battery lasted from 2009 to 2019 in that phone. I pressed an older Nokia (from the drawer of old phones… we all have one!) that is 2G only that still works.

I have a home-rolled Iridium system that I use when I go on holiday/expeditions (remember them from pre-Covid days?) that consists of an Iridum modem and a Raspberry Pi B+. The Pi acts as a WiFi access point and you connect your phone to the webserver in the Pi, you fill in the form and the data is sent to the Iridium modem and on to the SMS spot handler. It’s brilliant but costs £14+vat for 30 days airtime and each spot costs about £0.22 after that. Pricey but uber cool in my opinion as I designed the system, integrated the lot and wrote all the software. :wink:

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Thanks for the suggestions folks:-

Unfortunately I didn’t think to do that before going away but I’ve now stuck a sim from Things Mobile in the second sim slot. It roams between Three, Vodafone & O2, so hopefully one of those will work.

It’s really supposed to be a M2M sim, so limits the amount of data (or gets VERY EXPENSIVE if you use too much data) but should be ok for spotting via the SOTA app.

I can’t remember if it lets me send texts or make calls. I think it allows texts but I assume that I would have to register the number on the SOTA spotting system as I did with my normal mobile number?

No good for internet browsing in the caravan at the campsite though.

This is something that I’ve been seriously looking at over the last week. It would definitely solve the problem of spotting while on a summit but not the issue of getting internet into the caravan.

I liked the look of the Iridium Go as it can also be used to make phone calls…basically turning your mobile into a satellite phone. Unfortunately I didn’t like the price of the Iridium Go!

I don’t think the InReach can do that as I think it’s text messages only?

Unfortunately I don’t think I can justify the cost of a satellite setup though.

I have registered for this (& have used it a couple of times) but I find typing the message on the keypad of my VX-8E to be a bit long-winded…especially on a wet & windy summit with cold hands.

As for a solution from the caravan, I’m currently looking & 4g wifi units which can be mast mounted (high gain antenna mounted several meters in the air might just do it).

I wondered how long before someone suggested that!!!

Interesting. Might be worth the switch (or getting as a second sim).

If you go to the Cell mapper site that I gave links to - it Appears the EE network that used to be Orange has little or no coverage in the Lake District, but the current EE network is far improved.

73 Ed.

I use TalkMobile, which uses the Vodafone network.
I use SOTA Spotter for sending spots, which sends them via SMS text message.
I mainly use CW for SOTA, from a variety of UK areas and abroad (Denmark, Portugal, South Korea, Canary Islands, etc).

I get mobile phone signal strengths on SOTA summits from 100% 4G to no signal, but I usually get enough signal to be able to send a spot.

There are occasions when I can’t get a mobile phone signal, and then I rely on RBN, but the RBN network is only of any use if you have skimmers in the rough area you are in to pick up your signals.

I tried an activation from Ascension Island once, had a cracking local mobile phone signal, but forgot to register the local number with the SOTA team - what an idiot I was. RBN was no help there also, as band conditions were poor, and i wasn’t picked up by RBN.

So the bottom line is hope for a mobile phone signal, hope for RBN as a back-up, and last ditch is to use QRP/SOTA freqs. and hope.

73’s
David
G4ZAO

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In my experience Three is your problem. I had an ID Mobile phone for a short period - they use the Three network. On holiday on Anglesey I had to use my wife’s Vodafone as I had no coverage. I am now on Lebara which use the Vodafone network and the coverage is much better.

When I lived further up the Yorkshire Dales, Cellnet (now O2) were in the lead - they were the first to put a base station on the Grassington TV mast. Then Vodafone overtook them by also putting a base station on the Kettlewell TV mast. That was many years ago though. EE should also have good coverage as it is Orange+T-Mobile.

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Funny you should say that. While shooting a video last week I needed a Three WiFi connection and the only way I could get it to connect was to hoist the MiFi device 40ft up a tree.

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The problem with the on-sellers of the main networks, at least here in Germany, is that if a cell becomes heavily used, the network owners drop the connections to non-own-network phones first. When abroad you will find the same thing. Those paying the highest price for the network usage get the priority on the Cells. Seems reasonable to me.

73 Ed.

Awesome! I love it!

I have been looking at waterproof 4g routers with the idea of sticking it on a 20ft mast to get internet into the caravan in difficult locations:-

The hope being that getting my router 20ft or so in the air might just be enough to get a useable signal.

I’m always a bit dubious about buying cheap Chinese stuff from Ebay though, especially when it comes to mobile phones & other electronics!