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‘South Cambridgeshire is leading the world in science... but we just can’t get a decent mobile phone signal’

Scientists in the Cambridge life sciences cluster are creating the life-saving treatments of the future, but they are suffering from a mobile phone service that is stuck in the past, according to South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne .

He is pushing for the £1billion Shared Rural Network scheme unveiled by the government and network operators to prioritise South Cambridgeshire as a “mission critical” location for the UK's life sciences sector and a key driver of economic recovery.

Battling to get a mobile phone signal - a familiar scenario in South Cambridgeshire
Battling to get a mobile phone signal - a familiar scenario in South Cambridgeshire

He told the Cambridge Independent: “South Cambridgeshire is one of the most affluent parts of the country, and leading the world in the battle against the worst pandemic of modern times. But too often we can’t even make a simple phone call.

“When it comes to the research being done on these campuses, this can be a matter of life and death.

“Responding to my survey, 83 per cent of South Cambridgeshire residents rated signal across the constituency as poor or very poor.

“I heard stories of businesses struggling, havoc with bookings, issues informing schools of children’s illnesses and people simply unable to call friends and relatives.

“At a time when the government is encouraging people to work from home, it is vital they are given the tools they need to do their job well. It is time the mobile phone companies are themselves mobilised to tackle this problem.”

He calls for action in a letter, seen by the Cambridge Independent, that was sent to Hamish MacLeod, director of Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, and Lucie Smith, from their jointly owned venture Digital Mobile Spectrum.

“Many of our life sciences workers are currently based at home,” he told them. “They need reliable mobile phone signal to stay in touch with colleagues and share information. Now, more than ever, it is vital that the mobile digital communication supports their essential work to fight Covid-19 and other devastating health conditions.”

Pressing for a solution to mobile ‘not-spots’, he said: “South Cambridgeshire is a largely rural constituency, but also the home of the UK’s world-leading life sciences sector including four major research and development campuses.

“Partial not-spots - where mobile phone users can only access some networks and not others - are a significant problem in many areas, meaning many people can’t make a phone call when they need to. Our local scientists are creating the life-saving treatments of the future, but poor mobile signal means their communications are stuck the past.”

Anthony Browne, the MP for South Cambridgeshire. Picture: Keith Heppell
Anthony Browne, the MP for South Cambridgeshire. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Shared Rural Network scheme, announced in March, promises to deliver strong 4G coverage irrespective of what network provider people use.

The four mobile networks committed to investing £532million to close almost all partial not-spots, while the government is bolstering the fund by £500million to eliminate total not-spots.

Mr Browne continued: “The Cambridge life sciences cluster is at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. The Wellcome Genome Campus , which has the world’s largest collective genomics capacity on one site, is currently sequencing tens of thousands of SARS-CoV2 genomes, tracing different strains of the virus to allow rapid public health decision making and developing our understanding of the genetics of this disease.

Cambridge Biomedical Campus combines biomedical research, patient care and education on a single site. With more than 20,000 highly skilled workers (and growing rapidly), it is also home to the global headquarters of AstraZeneca , which is at the forefront of the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is collaborating internationally on Covid-19 research and the campus houses one of the UK’s biggest Covid testing laboratories .

Babraham Research Campus plays a key role as a facility for start-up companies and is studying how cells communicate, how health is affected by genetic and environmental factors and how the immune system changes with age.

“Nearby Granta Park also brings together more than 30 life sciences companies.”

A spokeperson for Mobile UK said: “The Shared Rural Network (SRN) submitted its radio plan on July 31 to the regulator Ofcom. We are awaiting the results of that submission and will be publishing further details later in the year. The SRN will extend 4G mobile broadband coverage to 95 per cent of the UK’s landmass by at least one operator by 2025-26.”

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