National map of phone coverage ‘blackspots’ to be published

Previous plan to have local authorities map coverage scrapped over lack of response

A ComReg spokesman said its online map will allow phone users to check expected mobile phone coverage of different operators at all locations throughout the country. File photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

A ComReg spokesman said its online map will allow phone users to check expected mobile phone coverage of different operators at all locations throughout the country. File photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

 

The communications regulator is to publish a national map of phone coverage ‘blackspots’ in the coming days, after a previous plan for local authorities to record areas of poor reception was scrapped by the Government.

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) will be publishing a long-awaited map outlining areas of poor phone coverage “in the next week or so”, Minister of State for rural and community development Seán Canney said.

Mr Canney said the ComReg map would give the Government a “baseline” to work towards eliminating “discrepancies” in coverage.

“It is a burden on people living in a blackspots, when the service is bad it can be very frustrating,” he said.

“On motorways you can be driving along and suddenly find it’s dropped and you’re only talking to yourself. In rural areas there are problems, some people have to go to the windows of their house to get any coverage,” Mr Canney said.

The Department of Rural and Community Development, which has responsibility for no-coverage zones, wrote to all 31 local authorities in November 2017, asking them to list their worst areas.

A deadline for December 2017 was extended into last year because of a poor response. By May last year, only 17 of the 31 local authorities had responded and a decision was taken to pull the plug on the project.

One official, close to the botched mapping project, said it became apparent last May that it was “doomed”.

“It was very ambitious, given most local authorities only have part-time officers dealing with coverage,” admitted the official.

Blackspots

Some local authorities mapped a few well-known blackspots while others were “granular” in their detail. Some looked at all mobile phone operators while others recorded just one.

“It didn’t compare like with like . . . some of the blackspots could have been someone’s kitchen while the other was the whole of Gougane Barra or the Wicklow Way or wherever,” the official added.

While some authorities were “methodical and scientific” about it, others relied on officers driving around in their own personal time after work with a phone in hand, checking the coverage.

Longford (84), Galway (64) and Kerry (56) reported most blackspots, followed by Limerick (36), Carlow (36) and Tipperary (29).

A spokesman for the department said the “majority of local authorities did not have the capacity to carry out technical testing”.

“As a consequence, the data that was collected in 2018 only represented a snapshot in time for certain areas and could not be interpreted as a definitive source of information regarding mobile phone blackspots.”

A ComReg spokesman said its online map will allow phone users to check expected mobile phone coverage of different operators at all locations throughout the country.

“The map is based on signal strength predictions calculated by ComReg using data it has collected about the mobile operators’ networks,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Canney released a progress report of the mobile phone and broadband taskforce, set up in 2016 to address the issue of poor coverage in parts of the country.

The department would be co-funding a pilot project in Malin Beg, along with Vodafone and Donegal County Council, to look at ways to tackle no-coverage zones, the report said.