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Ulster Experts Probe NI's Broadband/Mobile Phone Service Quality

31 October 2011

Low speed broadband, poor strength mobile phone signal, dropped calls, international roaming charges? If you’ve been affected by any or all of the above, then the University of Ulster wants to hear from you.

Professor of Telecommunications Engineering Gerard Parr (pictured)  and Professor of Mathematics Sally McClean are conducting a comprehensive independent online survey to establish what people living in Northern Ireland really think of their mobile phone and Internet service.

Professors Parr and McClean, who are both internationally acknowledged as leaders in their areas of expertise, will look at two distinct aspects of Northern Ireland’s telecommunications service: broadband access and mobile phone signal strength and geographical coverage.

Northern Ireland has one of the most advanced telecommunications infrastructures in Europe with an ever growing range of products and services on offer for home and business use.  However, despite significant investment by the telecommunications industry, European Commission and regional government, Professor Parr says there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that not everyone in Northern Ireland is happy with the service they are receiving

Urging people to complete the survey, Professor Parr said the direct feedback and evidence gathered from consumers would be used to identify ‘blackspot’ areas and put pressure on providers to improve their service.

“An analysis of the data gathered will be published and used to inform the telecommunications industry and stakeholders in government about gaps in services and to suggest improvements to the telecommunications infrastructure. Any inequities or inconsistencies in the availability of telecommunications services to any area of Northern Ireland will be brought to the attention of the appropriate agencies.”

Professor Parr says they plan to repeat the survey every six months  to assess what improvements, if any, have been made to the service.

“We want to get direct observations and feedback on the quality of the broadband or mobile service consumers are receiving and the impact this is having on their work or family life. For example how it affects their leisure and entertainment, children’s education, their workload, or ability to access new markets and customers.

“People living in border areas or along the coastline know how frustrating it can be not to get a consistently strong mobile signal.  A lot depends on your exact location, the type of handset you are using as much as the operator and the location of their base stations.  Poor mobile coverag can have much more serious and far reaching consequences, for example in a life or death situation when someone is trying to get in touch with the emergency services in a remote rural area.

“The provision of broadband access and access to 3G+, WiFi and other wireless services in Northern Ireland have all improved but against this backdrop of significant investment, there are still areas within Northern Ireland where equity and speed of access to the Internet over fixed or wireless infrastructure is not on a par with other areas of the province or the UK.

Professor Parr continues: “A quarter of broadband customers in Northern Ireland get internet speeds of less than 2 M/bits / sec (Ofcom Communications Infrastructure Report- August 2011). The same report revealed that Belfast Internet users can expect a much faster broadband speed (8.9Mbits/sec) than customers in Fermanagh (4.3 Mbits/sec).

"Also, mobile users here generally suffer from poorer coverage when compared to the rest of the UK with just 54% of mobile phone users in Northern Ireland enjoying 3G coverage. The average across the UK is 95%” (Ofcom Communications Market Report - August 2011).

Furthermore, he says the issue of broadband performance has been compounded since the September 2011 ruling of the Advertising  Standards Authority which allows companies to advertise ‘up-to’ speeds if at least 10% of their customers can receive such services.

“This isn’t much good though if you’re part of the remaining 90% and it makes it very confusing for consumers on tight budgets who are trying to work out how to get the best available deal in the current economic climate.

To complete the survey go to Notes to Editors

Northern Ireland has high availability of Superfast Broadband Services (that runs above 24Mbits/sec) but 23% of consumers in Northern Ireland are on average receiving less than 2Mbits/sec over their broadband connections

Average maximum speed available around Belfast is 8.9Mbits/sec compared to 5.7Mbits/sec in Coleraine, 4.3 Mbits/sec in Fermanagh, and 5.4 Mbits/sec in parts of County Down district.  (Ofcom Communications Infrastructure Report- August 2011").

Mobile coverage in Northern Ireland remains lower than the rest of the UK.  87% of the population of Northern Ireland live in a postcode district with at least 90% 2G coverage; however the figure for 3G coverage is much lower at 54%. This is well below the UK average of 95%.” (Ofcom Communications Market Report – August 2011).

Survey Link: