Tom Watson warns that "national roaming" isn't as good as it sounds

Mobile phones

The Birmingham MP Tom Watson, who is perhaps best known for campaigning against Rupert Murdoch has warned that the governments plans for “national roaming” perhaps won’t be as brilliant as they seem.

tomwatson.png“National roaming” is the idea that all of the phone networks in the country should work together – so that if you can’t get phone signal on your own network, your phone will be able to connect to a rival network. So if you’re on O2 and in a blackspot, if there’s an EE signal around, you should be able to make calls on that (just like when you go on holiday and your phone connects to foreign phone networks). This is what has been proposed by culture secretary Saajid Javid – and sounds like a rather appealing idea. Who doesn’t want better mobile signal?

Watson, a Labour MP, has warned in a blog post that all may not be as it seems. In fact, the move could degrade mobile service in rural areas – the sorts of places you’d expect this to help.

The reason is fairly straightforward: if networks were allowed to let other networks pick up the slack, then why would they bother to maintain their own transmitters in far-flung areas that only serve a few people? Why go to all of that expense when someone else will take care of it? The danger comes with all of the networks take that attitude – which would lead to a reduction in rural phone masts.

The other challenge is apparently the wholesale costs – the cash that the networks would pay each other to use each other’s networks. Apparently this could conceivably cause a hike in the prices we consumers pay.

There is a possible work-around to all of these problems: and that is the government playing a greater role in regulating the networks, but as Watson points out:

“I suppose the government could intervene further and regulate wholesale costs but David Cameron says he wants less regulation. I suppose he could even ask Ofcom to force the operators not to switch off any masts, but isn’t that the same sort of state intervention that he slammed the Labour Party for saying it would take in the energy market?”

So could we be heading for an unusual situation where the Tories are arguing for greater regulation and state intervention and Labour are arguing for less? Expect to see cats and dogs living in peace and harmony, and the England football team lifting the World Cup some time soon.

James O’Malley
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