Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications

Electronic Communications Markets: Commission for Communications Regulation

10:05 am

Mr. Gerry Fahy:

Let me be clear. We recognise our issues. There are a couple of things happening that may be contributing to that. I would just like to talk about those. One of the things that has happened that has changed very rapidly, as we explained in the presentation, is that the uptake of smartphones is a dramatic feature of modern life. Smartphones are wonderful instruments. They can do video and the Internet and can take pictures but they tend to suffer in that they are jack of all trades and master of none. In some cases, smartphones can be relatively poor as phones. Although people think they should have the same service, the smartphone antennae are less sensitive. In some cases, tests in Denmark have shown that they can be up to ten times less sensitive, which is to say they have only 10% of the sensitivity of the old Nokia phone that we all used to rely on. Even if the coverage has not changed, the ability of the phone to interact with a network may have changed. That is one factor. If one is on fringe coverage, that will affect one's ability to benefit from that coverage.

Another thing that is happening is the roll-out of 4G services, the expansion of 3G services and the merger of O2 and Three. There is a lot of network work going on at the moment. It is a bit like the Luas roll-out in Dublin, which is very disruptive. While it is happening, it is very disruptive but at the end of the process things will be much better. There is a definite impact from rearrangements of the network and activity on the network which will cause disruption. Hopefully, it will not cause permanent disruption, although that is a possibility if someone is just on the edge of a cell. However, it can cause temporary disruption which will be alleviated over time as the network roll-out is completed.

The third major factor is planning issues. The operators all know, as do the members here, where the black spots are and have been for many years. The ability to address those black spots probably comes down in many cases to getting planning permission or permission from landowners to place masts. In some cases, it has happened that a landlord has refused the extension of a lease that has run out. I understand that happened, for example, in Spiddal in the last couple of years and the mast had to be removed. Coverage definitely suffered in that area. There are a number of factors that can cause coverage issues.