Hey mobile networks. I’m in a city. It’s 2016. I can’t get a signal.

Recently I switched network. I moved to Vodafone after spotting this deal that got me a SIM-only plan with 10GB of data for just £11.59 per month.

I’m a bit of a mobile geek, as you’ll know, and like many of you I become aware of the “not spots” in my local area. I knew, for example, that Lichfield isn’t a great coverage area for Vodafone. I switched knowing that, and although it’s just a few miles from my house it’s not a deal-breaker.

Now, I know that the PR people will be reading this. I know that people from Vodafone will be reading this too. This isn’t a “dig” at Vodafone. They’ve got a hard job and I’ve previously questioned the Vodafone network guru – Dr Rob – about this. Honestly, give this article a read, it’s really very interesting and it’s a problem a lot of networks have got. I’m sure they’d love to put transmitters up everywhere, but it’s just not that easy for them.

All networks have some similar issues. Lichfield is a very old Cathedral City, and getting masts into the right places is a world of pain planning and approval wise. There’s lots of low-rise buildings and 230 listed buildings in winding, historic streets. You can’t put masts on the top of these buildings easily.

I actually did a history project at school about the city, which was once a Saxon village. Here’s one of the older streets..

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

Now again, I must say that I’m not targeting Vodafone here. If you head to the Ofcom coverage checker and click “Voice calls” in Lichfield and then choose “Indoor coverage” you’ll see the problem. O2 seems to have great coverage, while Voda and EE are poor. Three is very poor indeed. It’s one of those things – I know other cities and towns where it’s the reverse. It depends on so many variables – frequencies, transmitter locations, the thickness of the walls and the age of the buildings etc etc..

Up until now it’s been my wife who’s had the signal issues in Lichfield – she’s been on Vodafone for a while now – but she’s only really noticed it in the big Tesco. This is positioned on stilts on the outskirts of Lichfield. A big metal box? On stilts? It’s the worst thing you can do to a mobile signal. However, the free Tesco WiFi and WiFi calling on her Samsung Galaxy S7 edge has fixed that problem.

However, when we came out of Tesco we had to pop into the middle of town. I happened to park up about 100 yards away from the Vodafone store, which is under the marker below..

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

It’s on Bakers Lane, which is a pedestrianised area and it’s opposite Greggs. If you’re not aware of Greggs, it’s an bakery / cake shop serving lots of healthy snacks. I wanted to pop into because, well… who doesn’t like a Greggs sausage roll eh? Come on…

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

If you look carefully you can see Greggs in the reflection. See? See it? Yum.

Trouble is, my wife had gone to Boots a couple of doors down and so I tried to call her to ask whether she wanted to take part in my posh lunchtime grub, but .. I couldn’t get through. Now, if you have a look at that network coverage image up top you’ll noticed something. Take a look at the zoomed-in version below. This is direct from the Vodafone coverage checker and I’ve selected “2G coverage”. It should be noted that 4G coverage has recently been deployed in the area, but this is equally spotty. I’m interested in 2G coverage for good ‘ole fashioned voice calls..

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

Look. Look at that. The grey section, according to their checker, means “Outdoor coverage only“.

Now, I know about all the reasons. I know about the historic buildings, the nightmare planning restrictions and the various other problems that networks have, but this is 2016. My wife is 20 metres from the front door of a Vodafone shop and .. there’s no signal in Boots. I’ve just about got a signal but, when I get back to my car (again, just about 100 yards away from a store) and try to get on the internet, this happens…

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

No internet and pretty much “0 bars” of 3G. The car is parked in Wade Street, which is right next to the Garrick Theatre. They’ve got Sleeping Beauty on this Christmas y’know. Book your tickets people. The Vodafone shop is through a small walkway, on the other side of the large tree.

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

Here’s the exact location of my car..

Hey mobile networks. Im in a city. Its 2016. I cant get a signal.

That’s another grey square and I got “1 bar” when I stood outside the car but, with my wife still looking at stuff in Boots, I couldn’t call her or anyone else because the signal was so low.

I told Vodafone about this on Twitter and they’ve asked me to submit a report. I’ve done this before with other networks and they’ve done a similar thing.. “Yeah, file a report and we’ll look into it”. However, what gets me is that this is a major city / town. I’m not in the middle of a field. I’m not on a boat. I don’t think I’m asking for something that’s unreasonable. I just reckon that it’d be logical and understandable for networks to look at their own coverage maps and then drill-down into towns and cities where 2G coverage is poor like this. Prioritise those patches of rubbish coverage. Get some signal boosters out there. Fix the little spots of nothingness.

For their own vanity, they should at least ensure that their branded stores don’t have a big fat patch of “nothing” around the front door. It’s just not cricket and it’s embarrassing for a new customer to walk across the road, only to see their signal vanish off the dial.

There’s a secret of course, and it’s something that mobile phone stores have used for years. Boosters. Vodafone will use a Sure Signal. Other networks will use similar technology. It just means that customers will get a lovely full signal when they’re in the store. However, when they leave that store it’s another matter.

So yes, although I know that Vodafone (and other networks) are working on fixing not-spots in remote villages and hamlets (check out our earlier coverage on that), they should also concentrate on areas where a reliable 2G signal can’t be provided inside towns and cities – just metres from their own shops.

This needs to be addressed. It’s 2016. Let me talk to the orange-faced lady at the Boots counter and ask her to put one of those outdoor “Sure Signal” boxes up. In fact, set me up on commission. I’ll look at all the grey “squares” on coverage maps where the 2G signal is low, and you can pay me £5 for each Sure Signal I install. Go on. Do it.