Research published by UK regulator Ofcom last week has unquestionably caught the media’s attention and seen a flurry of reports focussing on a particular statistic that whilst overall levels of consumer satisfaction with mobile networks are high – only two thirds of those living in rural areas say they enjoy a good mobile service.
Ofcom used independent firm RootMetrics to analyse call data, and found that typically only around of 85% of calls made in rural areas pass off without a problem.
The media attention on mobile services in rural areas acts as a timely reminder of the work the Small Cell Forum and the UK operators are actively doing to solve rural challenges and help meet the needs of remote communities. The Forum is addressing this in its next release, Release Five, which is themed around small cells for Rural & Remote deployments. This full set of documentation will be published in February 2015.
In the UK we’re seeing significant progress in residential small cell deployments. In her keynote at Small Cell World Summit the Forum’s CEO Sue Monahan quoted Ofcom’s 2013 infrastructure report that there were approximately 300,000 residential Small Cells (femtocells) deployed in the UK last year – representing a 47% increase in 12 months – with rural uptake of residential femtocells in the UK also significantly 3x higher than in urban areas. This indicates there is clearly demand for coverage in rural areas and is a great example of how small cells are used to enhance coverage. The Small Cell Forum’s mission is to help Operators deploy small cells in various deployment scenarios by identifying the drivers, breaking down the barriers and providing a deployment template for Operators to follow. Release Five will provide that template which will help drive rural and remote uptake.
At the same time we’re seeing operator initiatives such as Vodafone’s national programme giving 100 rural communities the chance to get Open Sure Signal technology (femtocells) in their villages and hamlets as part of a £1bn investment in its network.
Despite the criticism’s raised by Ofcom’s report, it’s clear that there is already a lot of great work underway and that small cells will be playing a huge role in attempts to improve the rural mobile service in what remains of this year and into 2015.