A GOVERNMENT watchdog is not doing enough to check that all areas of the country have adequate mobile phone coverage, a Dail committee warned yesterday.
The Communications Committee said this was because the telecommunications watchdog ComReg is not testing in rural areas away from main roads.
ComReg said it carried out one million tests a year which showed all companies were complying with the minimum coverage requirements needed in their licences.
On standard 2G mobile networks, these minimums ranged from 80pc with Meteor to 97pc with O2 and 99pc with Vodafone -- which was given a higher requirement because it had an initial market monopoly.
On the 3G (smartphone) networks, Meteor had to provide minimum coverage of 83pc, O2 had 90.2pc, 3 had 85pc and Vodafone had 85pc.
ComReg did not provide details of the exact level of coverage achieved.
The Communications Committee heard claims by politicians that mobile phone coverage nationwide is unacceptably patchy with frequent blackspots and dropped calls.
Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said there was a serious problem with people paying high premiums for mobile phone coverage and then not getting it.
He outlined an "endless list" of coverage blackspots including Dublin's Heuston Station to the M9 motorway in Waterford to Clarenbridge in Co Galway and Rosses Point in Sligo, and called on ComReg to publish maps showing areas of poor coverage, with geographical rather than population-based targets for coverage.
ComReg director George Merrigan said they made a million phone coverage measurements a year, based on driving around a 3,500km test route along all the major national primary roads.
Committee chairman MJ Nolan said that a significant proportion of the population lived nowhere near these primary routes.
"These tests should be extended to other types of roads such as secondary, tertiary and county roads," he said.
The committee also heard that moves to introduce a Europe-wide hotline for missing children have proved a flop, with nobody in Ireland willing to run the service.
Though ComReg has established a special EU-wide 116000 freephone number, a shortage of funding means nobody has applied to operate the service.