We want to be as honest as possible when it comes to coverage, which is exactly why our new Coverage Checker tool exists. Read on to find out its secrets...

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If you’re thinking of joining Vodafone, or if you’re looking to upgrade to 4G, you’ll quite rightly want to understand what kind of network service to expect. But, hang on…

How do you know what to expect in the first place? Worry not: to try and fix that chicken-and-egg situation, we’ve just launched our Vodafone Coverage Checker tool.

The Coverage Checker is an effort on our part to be as clear as possible about our coverage, but since the science of coverage in itself can be a bit of a mystery, we thought we’d best speak to an expert to explain it all. Enter Martin Oliver, Vodafone’s man behind the project…

“A Coverage Checker is a must for any mobile operator.”

“A Coverage Checker is a must for any mobile operator,” he explains. “It’s very important because if we inadequately explain things, or don’t manage people’s expectations of coverage, then we will inevitably drive negativity for ourselves.

“And doing that is our industry equivalent of a cable company sticking a leaflet through your door to say ‘why not sign up for this?’, and then saying in the small print that cable isn’t actually in your street.”

So how does it work? Simple: when you open up our Coverage Checker, you’ll be able to put in a post code or search for an area and see how we’re doing in terms of 2G, 3G and 4G coverage. As well as the level of coverage we’re looking to achieve over time. We’re taking this approach to address some of the feedback that people have given us around coverage checkers in the past, and make it easier for people to see what’s happening near them. But where does that information come from?

“It’s essentially a complicated computer prediction,” Martin tells. “It’s a calculated model of where coverage will be, based upon lots of source data. For example, the system knows where all the sites are, what equipment is on those sites, what power those sites have, where the aerials are and which way they’re pointing. It knows how high those sites are above the surrounding area, and it also has some account of what’s called ‘clutter’, which is all the buildings around the area.”

 

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“It combines all that to create a model which is regularly updated. The tool takes data from our databases of network information, calculates it and then displays coverage. That’s updated once a week to give the clearest possible picture for 4G where we’re also updating things manually every couple of days.”

The resulting coverage map is incredibly rich in explaining what a user can expect – and often on a tiny scale, which can be surprising when it comes to fluctuating areas of coverage that are only down the road from each other. And in part, that’s why the Coverage Checker exists – to let us show exactly what network coverage looks like.

Striking a balance

“People might expect us to be able to take a post code and say ‘yes or no’,” Martin says. “But the reality is, whether you get coverage or not depends on all those different factors that affect radio signal. Therefore, coverage varies. And it can vary over such a short distance – it can literally flip between good and not so good within a few hundred meters.”

Martin says that because of our extensive research into both coverage checkers and our customers’ expectations, he knows that the real challenge is to make complicated stuff understandable, without glossing over too much:

“It’s all a very complex thing, and because it’s complex it’s a bit of a balancing act.”

“People may understand the concept of radio signals, but they might, for instance, think that mobile operators have one huge transmitter that covers the whole of their town with blanket coverage. Some customers might think that within a town or city, coverage is literally on or off. What need to show is that even within a sub-post code, coverage can change enormously.

“It’s all a very complex thing, and because it’s complex it’s a bit of a balancing act. If we simplify it too much we’ll end up factoring in so many inaccuracies that we’d be giving off the wrong impression. But if you explain it in too much detail then people won’t get the answer they’re looking for.

“So it’s about striking a balance.  It’s as much as about a good human interface and a good explanation as it is about accurate calibration and prediction

Cards on the table

Get that balance right, and everyone should be happy. Or, at least they will be if you’re as honest as possible, as Martin explains:

“Because coverage is such a claim of excellence, people sometimes think that networks claim to have coverage that they’ve not actually got. Our position is to be as straight up-and-down as possible, and then to do as much as we can to explain the complexities in a simple way.”

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Crucially, that includes dividing coverage into ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’, and making sure people know the difference:

“When we say ‘indoor coverage’, it means we’ve made a choice as to what level of signal is required for that, which varies depending on the type of building you’re in.

“That’s important because a network can claim to have a very high percentage coverage but technically do that with a very weak, low signal. But if you’re more honest,” he adds, “you show the coverage that is at a sufficiently strong level of signal.

“We’re airing on the honesty side of things, even if it means that, comparatively, our coverage might look slightly smaller in some places. It’s all about being transparent.”

So that’s the Vodafone Coverage Checker: us laying our cards on the table.

See for yourself… If you fancy checking out what Vodafone coverage is like in your area, you can find our Coverage Checker here.