The drive towards greater connectivity for rural communities is being given a boost by a local council using ATDI expertise.

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is working with mobile phone network operators to improve services for residents and businesses across England’s largest county. The authority says it recognises the importance of delivering jobs and economic growth to rural areas, stating: “Better mobile phone coverage is vital to achieving these aims.”

Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Access, points out that the current level of coverage across the council’s area includes areas with no signal and those where there is merely 2G coverage. He adds that the council submitted a successful bid to the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership for £1m from the Local Growth Fund and says this money “will be available to support investment in increasing mobile coverage as plans are developed. We have also appointed a programme manager to work with mobile operators, planners and communities to identify opportunities to improve coverage across the county.”

The programme manager is now liaising with mobile network operators (MNOs) to develop a coverage map of the area, identifying levels of coverage and where new sites could be located. The task of establishing existing and potential coverage levels has been given to ATDI, which produced a report for the council.

The ATDI report encompassed an end-user survey in which conventional mobile phones running specialist logging software were installed in domestic vehicles. ATDI drove every motorway, A road and B road in the county and as many C and unclassified roads, as necessary to get a representative service map.

The document author, ATDI lead engineer Simon Parsons, notes: ‘User perception of mobile coverage was not good, however, the Emergency Services Network (ESN) Extended Area Service (EAS) and conventional ESN sites currently in planning would remove all major not spots in emergency calls coverage and potentially enhance MNO coverage in those areas.’

The four networks are currently in rapid transition to 4G voice, with already significantly more coverage than expected. Except for the potential new Emergency Service 4G (ESN) Extended Area Service (EAS) sites, this new coverage was primarily from existing sites and was mainly duplicating or enhancing existing legacy coverage. This rapidly-developing situation would almost certainly require further surveys.’

While the data suggested that the general end-user experience was still patchy, there was unlikely to be more Not Spots due to the rollout of the ESN/EAS. However, coverage from individual MNOs was still variable, although in any given area there was generally at least one MNO available. Despite this, ATDI identified some areas where coverage was likely to remain generally poor for most mobile operators and recommended six site locations that would improve coverage; the company also identified 12 ESN EAS sites that NYCC should prioritise if any are to be opened for public use.

Project manager, Paul Grant said, ‘Consumer and business demand for good mobile coverage is a constant pressure for mobile phone companies and councils. I predict we will see far more local authorities turn to planning and modelling companies like ATDI, as they seek to improve services for their local population.’

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