Government plans to allow mobile networks to share each other's service in a bid to improve coverage will remove any incentive for them to improve existing infrastructure, leaving many Britons in the dark.
That is the warning by Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at the price comparison site uSwitch, who accuses networks of riding on each others' coat tails and not actually improving their service.
The government has proposed that networks let their customers temporarily switch to a rival in areas where their own provider does not offer coverage - areas known as non-spots.
In a statement sent to IBTimes UK, Doku criticised the plan for having "no impact at all on people living in UK blackspots, where no coverage is available on any network."
Doku added: "Allowing networks to ride on the coat tails of others would remove any incentive for underperforming networks to invest in improving their existing infrastructure."
'Phone bills could rise yet again'
If the system, known as national roaming, is brought into action, Doku warns that consumers are "bound to" see a financial knock-on effect, as he predicts the system will only penalise the networks with the best coverage, as they have to deal with an influx of users in areas not covered by rivals. "Bills could rise yet again if some mobile networks try to recoup the losses through their customers."
Poor mobile phone coverage is said to affect a fifth of the UK, leaving people unable to make calls, send text messages, or access the internet. Determined to address the issue, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said the government "isn't prepared to let that situation continue."
Proposals to fix the problem include national roaming, where phones would automatically switch to another network when the one they usually connect to is unavailable. There would also be infrastructure sharing, where networks would be allowed to put transmitters on each other's masts, and a system obliging networks to cover a certain percentage of the UK.
But the proposals have been met by concern from Whitehall, as a letter leaked to The Times newspaper contains a warning from the Home Secretary Theresa May, who claims allowing people to easily switch between networks would hinder government attempts to track criminals and terrorists. Quoted by the BBC, the letter states the system "could have a detrimental impact of law enforcement, security and intelligence agency access to communications data and lawful intercept."
Meanwhile, networks claim mobile phone battery life will be shortened as the devices work harder to search for the best network, rather than sticking to the one they are set up to use.