MOBILE phones are an indispensable part of modern life, even if we seldom use them for making actual phone calls. But as we all know, Britain - and the northern half of Yorkshire in particular - is a patchwork quilt of coverage, with more holes than the A64 after a wet winter.
The UK’s four mobile networks - Vodafone, O2, EE and Three - publish coverage maps on their websites, as does the regulator Ofcom, which compares all four and measures indoor as well as outdoor signals.
But whichever network you choose, you can’t expect to get a signal everywhere. That’s why a new generation of apps and services is being rolled out to help alleviate the problem. The best of these is EE’s new Wifi Calling system, which lets you make and receive calls and texts whenever you’re out of mobile range - so long as you’re within reach of a wifi hotspot. This is ideal if your home is not covered by EE’s signal.
Wifi Calling is built into the phone itself, so there is no need to launch an app when you want to connect. Calls and texts you make through the service are charged at the same rates as those over the regular mobile network. Only newer phones are compatible, though, and only then to customers on pay-monthly tariffs. “Virtual networks” which use EE’s transmitters, including BT Mobile, Asda and Virgin, are also not covered.
O2 offers a similar solution, via a downloadable app called O2 Tu Go. It’s available for more phones, but again, some tariffs and certain corporate accounts are excluded. Three also has an app that will work on certain handsets only.
Vodafone, which has recently launched a service similar to EE’s, but with an even more limited range of supported phones and tariffs, is the only one of the four to also offer a hardware solution - an older and less flexible, but more robust idea. Vodafone Sure Signal is an adaptor that you plug into a 13 amp socket in your home and cable up to a nearby router. The adapter is like a mini transmitter that emits a signal within a range of around 100ft, and can be picked up by absolutely any handset on the Vodafone frequency. In order to stop your neighbours using it to make calls on your account, you must “register” it to just the numbers you own. For office purposes, this can be as many as 32, and eight phones can use it simultaneously.
The disadvantage of the Sure Signal, apart from the £69 asking price, is that it’s not really mobile; carrying it around to use in other blackspot locations you may encounter is just not practical.
You can avoid apps and hardware entirely by simply diverting incoming calls to a landline of your choice. This can be done manually by dialing a few hashes and star keys to a number supplied by your network - or you can automate the process with a free app like Smart Call Forwarding, which can be made to kick in whenever you’re in a given location. It doesn’t work with texts, though, and you need a to have mobile signal in order to activate the diversion.
If none of these solutions works for you, you do, of course, have the ultimate sanction - telling your network you’re moving to a different one. You’ll need a good signal to get through, mind.