Regulator takes aim at dropped mobile calls and dodgy coverage
Poor mobile phone coverage and dropped calls are to come under renewed spotlight by Ireland's telecoms regulator, Comreg.
The agency is to test for bad mobile phone service all over the country, looking for evidence of dropped calls, weak signals and slow data speeds.
The move comes as mobile operators claim data speeds and geographic coverage which sometimes conflict with users' experience.
Industry regulations stipulate that fewer than one in 50 mobile calls should fall victim to dropped calls. However, increased use of smartphone online and video services is piling pressure on networks, leading some to experience a fall in quality at peak periods.
The regulator says that it will conduct a series of test drives in cities and towns around the country, focusing on rush-hour periods and other busy times.
The tests will take place in November, with subsequent testing carried out every six months until 2017.
Hotspots such as Dublin's M50 ring road and public transportation hubs are likely to be tested, as will busy commuter routes around Irish cities. Some areas of rural Ireland are also expected to be tested.
"The conditions for operators now are very different from a few years ago," said Colin Cunningham, a mobile networks expert who has experience testing network quality. "If a site like Facebook tweaks its service, that can result in a big change in demand on the network overnight."
Comreg's move comes as Ireland's second largest operator, 3 Ireland, announced it will spend €100m upgrading the network for O2 and 3 users.
The company, which recently took over O2 Ireland in a €700m deal, has said it plans to spend a total of €300m on network improvements, including the rollout of a new 4G network in Ireland.
Other operators have also pledged large sums of money to improve their basic phone networks. Vodafone has said that a large chunk of the €550m it has earmarked for network upgrades will go to basic quality improvements for older 3G network users.
The renewed focus on network quality comes after the Government's termination of the National Broadband Scheme, which guaranteed mobile broadband speeds to 45,000 users in rural Ireland. The ending of the scheme means that data speeds are no longer protected for rural users.
Irish mobile operators are struggling with the huge rise in data usage among phone customers here.
Vodafone chief executive Anne O'Leary recently revealed that the average amount of smartphone internet and video use has doubled in the last year with the introduction of 4G.
Industry rules require Irish operators to maintain minimum levels of coverage and quality in their networks.
However, the system relies partly on a method of self-testing, with operators required to make special network logs available to the regulator. Comreg's test-drive method involves placing network-testing equipment in a vehicle, which travels through selected areas, particularly those known for being heavily congested.
A spokesman for Comreg was unavailable for comment.