By Ben Fitter-Harding
Hello? Can you hear me now?
For anyone who lives or works in Canterbury, particularly in the city centre, not having mobile phone signal is a familiar daily occurrence.
Dropped calls, no data and a battery that runs out by lunchtime are issues that plague us all as a result.
Perhaps you get a bar, or a little G icon, or even an E, but it makes no difference: the mobile phone you’re shelling out for every month is less useful as a communicator than paper cups and string.
So why is this such a problem in Canterbury, and what can be done?
Well, due to the beauty and history of much of the area within the city walls, you’re unlikely to find a stonking great mobile phone mast.
Some are dotted around the periphery, for example there’s a mast over at Canterbury West station, but even where the masts exist they only serve the customers on that network.
Some parts of the city centre get a boost of signal from picocells, very small masts designed to serve their immediate area, but this approach hasn’t made it much further than the phone shops themselves.
Wiring up every shop individually would be very expensive, and again you only get the benefit if you’re on the same network that the small mast belongs to.
In very general terms, if you have a mobile phone then you’re probably connected to one of just two major networks.
Vodafone and O2 have a joint approach to providing masts, and EE and Three also share a large number
Any other network, such as Tesco, piggybacks on one of these two, so your choice is limited at best.
According to Ofcom, if you’re in Canterbury then your best bet is the network approach taken by O2 and Vodafone or one of the virtual networks that piggybacks on them.
If you’re outside and on one of those networks then you’re free to stream cat videos at will, but venture inside and it’s the same old story.
So…just tell me how to fix it already!
Well, it’s unlikely that either of the main networks is going to change anything substantially.
4G helped a lot, using old TV and 2G signals that bore far further into buildings than 3G ever could, but we’ve pretty much seen all the benefits of that now. Yet all is not lost.
Step 1. Know your WiFi:
Canterbury city centre is awash with a hodgepodge of WiFi. Whether it’s free WiFi from the Council at the Beaney or the Marlowe Theatre, or variants in KITCH or The Pound, it’s out there, and most of the time you only need to pop in for a drink and connect once to have it forever.
Moreover, providers like Sky, BT and The Cloud offer services that work in multiple locations, so setting those up can make the world of difference.
Depending on who provides your mobile phone service and home broadband you probably get access for free.
Step 2. WiFi Calling:
This is the thing almost no-one knows about. All of the major mobile network brands now provide a WiFi Calling service.
On an iPhone, hit settings, phone, WiFi calling and turn it on. If it won’t turn on, call your network and they’ll sort it for you. It works on most Android phones, too.
When you’re connected you’ll see a message such as “Vodafone WifiCall” where the network name is usually displayed on your phone.
Now you can be inside, with no signal, and as long as you’re on the WiFi everything will keep working as if you were outside and basking in full 4G.
So that’s it. Staying connected in Canterbury takes a bit of effort, but choose your network wisely and follow these steps and you’ll never miss that urgent PPI call again…
Ben Fitter-Harding has been a Conservative councillor for Blean Forest since 2012 and chairs Canterbury City Council’s property and regeneration committee. A former student of the University of Kent, he has a background in technology and design.