Mobile phone failures exposed

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MOBILE PHONE companies' coverage often does not match the promises of their advert-ising, according to a study produced for the telecommunications watchdog Oftel.

Despite claims by the four main networks that they cover almost 100 per cent of the population, in practice making a phone call can be a frustrating experience with, for example, up to 25 per cent of calls being cut off during rail journeys for users of the Vodafone network. Even in cities, users of One 2 One's service can find that only 91 per cent work, which means that almost one phone call in 10 may "drop out" mid-sentence. The best on both counts was Orange, where 97 per cent of city calls and 89 per cent of rail calls were successful.

Oftel commissioned the survey, from Freshfields Communications, after the networks refused to offer their own independent figures that might help prospective users to decide which was the best network.

"There needs to be clarity so that people can compare the quality of service between networks to get the best deal," said Oftel's director- general, David Edmonds.

He will repeat the survey unless the companies - Orange, One 2 One, Cellnet and Vodafone - start offering such independent data themselves.

The survey used computerised equipment to try to make 90-second calls in three cities - London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff - and on rail lines between London, Edinburgh, Crewe and Cardiff.

The railway coverage was noticeably variable. "On the trains in rural areas, much lower call success rates were experienced, which, of course, will contribute significantly to customer dissatisfaction on those routes," the report noted.

The networks said that they are working on ways to offer comparative information.