Watchdog reveals most complained about phone and broadband services in Ireland
Issues with Eir and 3 Ireland spurred the largest number of customer calls to the telecoms watchdog, Comreg, according to new figures.
Poor coverage, including dropped mobile calls and loss of service drove thousands of people to contact the regulator. While Eir attracted most complaints overall, 3 Ireland was the subject of over a quarter of all service-related issues in the last three months.
The mobile phone company has had a series of challenges in integrating O2 customers following its takeover of the rival mobile network last year. It has run into several issues in its efforts to integrate 1.5m O2 Ireland customers into its own network.
A recent Comreg survey indicated that 3 Ireland is lagging on 4G, with only half the 4G speeds of its main Irish rival Vodafone. A spokesman for 3 Ireland claims that the network's speeds have increased in recent months.
Overall, 5,982 issues were raised with Comreg over Irish telecom operators in the last three months of 2015. The figure is marginally down on the previous three-month period.
In relation to operator service issues, Eir was the subject of the most queries and also the highest number of complaints per capita. The majority of issues raised about Eir related to billing and charging matters, with contractual issues the next most raised item. The company is the only operator to have a universal service obligation, legally requiring it to provide phone services to every home in the country. It has encountered difficulties with storm damage in each of the last three winters.
Meteor attracted the third highest number of complaints per capita but had a lower number of overall queries than rivals Vodafone or 3 Ireland.
Vodafone Mobile attracted the smallest number of complaints per thousand customers, but its landline counterpart, Vodafone At Home, had the third highest number of complaints per thousand customers raised with Comreg.
Virgin had the lowest number of problems per customer, while Sky had the second highest number of queries raised with Comreg, despite its low overall volume of complaints.
The regulator did not release figures for rival ‘virtual' mobile operators, Tesco Mobile, Lycamobile, Post Mobile, Virgin Mobile or iD, which represent almost 10pc of the Irish mobile market. All except Post Mobile operate off 3 Ireland's mobile network.
Some rural TDs say that weak mobile phone coverage is a bigger issue among constituents than lack of broadband.
"There is a real problem with coverage in large areas of the country," Helen McEntee, a Fine Gael TD for Meath East, told an Oireachtas committee hearing on communications last week. "I can't keep a call without it dropping on routes that I travel."
Under Irish telecoms law, mobile operators are required to cover between 70pc and 80pc of the country's population with no legal requirement to cover rural areas.
Mobile operators say that they face planning objections from local communities, despite the growing outcry over coverage blackspots. One in three applications for masts and other mobile network infrastructure is rejected by rural councils and An Bord Pleanala.
However, the chairman of Comreg rejected claims that mobile phone signals are worse today than they were five years ago.
"We conduct drive tests four times a year," said Jeremy Godfrey. "Coverage is over 90pc of the population. There's no evidence that those signal strengths have gotten worse in recent years."
However, the regulation chief admitted that Comreg's testing procedure is limited to main roads around the country and does not penetrate some rural areas.
"There are places where people were able to use their phone in their homes five years ago and they can't use them there now," Jeremy Godfrey, chairman of Comreg, told an Oireachtas committee hearing on communications last week.
"We acknowledge that individuals sometimes have a worse experience than they previously had. Our evidence is that this is not due to any reduction in the signal strength being provided by operators. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a problem."
Mr Godfrey said that the telecoms watchdog is considering the licensing of amplifiers to help boost rural mobile coverage.