Tuesday 25 June 2019

New mobile coverage map exposing Ireland's blackspots to be delayed

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Rural dwellers hoping for progress on mobile blackspots will have to wait a little longer.

A national mobile blackspot map from the telecoms regulator is to be delayed until next year.

Comreg had planned to release a map showing the strongest and weakest areas of mobile coverage across the country this month.

However, a spokesman told Independent.ie that the process is behind schedule.

“Comreg has made considerable progress with the mobile coverage map and is in the final stages of testing and validation,” said the spokesman. “We plan to release a version to the mobile network operators in the coming days. Subject to any identified issues being addressed as appropriate, we expect to make the map available to the public in the new year.”

The map is based on an estimation of mobile coverage by Comreg that is informed by data from mobile operators, rather than Comreg’s own field testing.

“The mast data is coming from the operators,” Comreg commissioner Jeremy Godfrey recently told the Irish Independent when explaining how the map would be calculated.

“Then Comreg’s own analysis will use detailed engineering models to calculate down to cells of ten square metres. The idea is that people can select a place and select a network and it will tell them based on Comreg’s information whether they are likely or unlikely to get coverage there.”

He said that the data will initially be available to browse on a website rather than an app.

At present, Comreg does not know where many of the country’s blackspots are due to limited testing ability across Ireland.

Mobile phone licences at present only require operators to cover up to 90pc of the population, with no geographical coverage stipulation. This has left thousands of notorious ‘blackspots’ around the country. In some cases attempts to build masts have been rejected by local residents.

 Earlier this year, the government said it would establish a ‘Blackspots Focus Group’ that would identify “specific categories” of locations where high quality mobile coverage should be available, “and inform future policy to address critical blackspot locations”.

The focus group’s work was completed, resulting in a set of recommendations, including a request by the government to local government agencies to help formulate policy for fewer blackspots.

“Local authorities are now being asked to map local blackspots and identify infrastructure that could potentially be used to provide additional coverage on an economic basis,” the report, which is published online, says.

The report also concluded that the problem could be improved with taskforce-identified initiatives around local planning. “The recommendations identified included expediting a number of existing taskforce initiatives and actions, for example, extending the exemptions to planning regulations, implementing a consistent local authority and NRA infrastructure pricing framework,” said the report’s conclusion, also identifying “further development of the project assisting local authorities and operators to jointly identify sites to address critical blackspot locations.” T

he government report also says that progress is being made by the creation of more focus groups. The “initiation of a focus group to identify specific categories of locations where high quality mobile coverage should be available, to inform future policy development and initiatives”, it concludes.

A separate Mobile Phone and Task Review Report, which the government also says represents progress on the issue, concluded: “A review will be undertaken to address the issue of blackspots to include recommendations on initiatives to address the issue, taking account of the various innovative options available.”

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