Essex: Poor mobile phone coverage is hitting businesses


- Credit: PA

Contracts, jobs and savings are being lost in north Essex as a result of businesses suffering poor or no mobile phone coverage, according to new research.

A survey carried out by business organisation the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SE LEP) has found some areas in Essex, including Braintree, Marks Tey along the A120 and the train line between Chelmsford and London, are particular “cold spots” where users struggle to get a consistent mobile service for voice calls.

More than 400 businesses across all sectors and sizes in the South East responded to SE LEP’s call for evidence earlier this year with more than 80% saying their business suffers from disruption due to mobile phone cold spots.

The survey found that the businesses frequently quoted loses of around £10,000 or more a year through lost sales, damaged reputation, and opportunities to create new jobs. It found that poor mobile coverage was preventing companies from implementing flexible business models and working practices and limiting the work field sales or engineering teams working across large sites can undertake.

SE LEP chairman, John Spence, said: “Our research clearly shows that poor or no mobile phone coverage is more than just a mild frustration for businesses. It is having a profound impact on their ability to fulfil their potential and further stimulate the local and national economies through creating new jobs.

Mr Spence added: “Another key issue is the poor reception on trains. One of my worst experiences was to sit next to a man on a train who had just won a major contract and was trying to mobilise his staff but lost the signal six times between Liverpool Street and Chelmsford. It was a service more reminiscent of a third world country than one of the world’s leading cities.”

He said the SE LEP intends to use its research to work with mobile network providers to investigate ways of resolving the issue of poor coverage.

Most Read

However, at the Mobile Operators Association, which represents the major mobile network providers, a spokesman said economics and obtaining planning consent for masts were two major hurdles to extending coverage.

He said: “It is more expensive to build and maintain base stations in rural areas; connecting sites to the telephone network and electricity supply costs more than in urban areas. In rural areas there is low population density which means less revenue to cover capital expenditure and ongoing operating costs.

“Without a network of sites there is no signal for customers, so local authorities have a vital role to play in approving appropriate planning applications from mobile operators and making their own land available to build on.

“Over the coming months the introduction of 4G will help address some of the coverage problems for rural areas as the radio waves will cover a larger area than existing 3G signals.”

But at Braintree District Council, councillor Lady Newton, who is cabinet member for planning and prosperity said the council has not received any major applications for phone masts, and that any application made would “always be assessed on its merit”.

She added: “As a rural district we welcome the research being conducted by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership which raises an issue for many businesses, and are happy to have further discussions on how we can work together in the future.”