EE has called on rival mobile networks to provide “greater clarity” about signal coverage.
Most operators cite population-based figures but do not state how much of the UK landmass they cover.
EE said that from January, it would clearly cite only its geographic coverage on its website and adverts.
Industry regulator Ofcom told the BBC it had called on operators to improve coverage on transport lines and in remote places.
Population v geographic
Most of the UK’s mobile operators boast coverage figures of up to 99% – but these numbers are based on the number of premises that have connectivity.
Since a large number of people work and live in major towns and cities, where coverage tends to be good, the percentage figure is high.
But it does not reflect how much of the country as a whole gets a signal, and thus does not indicate the likelihood of experiencing drop-outs while travelling or working outside.
“Our view is that the industry needs to be clearer on coverage, and geographic is the most important metric,” EE’s chief executive Marc Allera told the BBC.
“These are mobile devices. People expect them to work outside of where they live and work.”
How the rivals compare
- EE says its 4G network covers 99% of the population and 75% of the UK landmass, while its 2G network covers 85% of the UK landmass
- Vodafone says its 4G network covers 96% of the population, while its 2G network covers 93% of the UK landmass. It does not provide geographic 4G coverage
- Three’s website says its 3G network covers 97% of the population. It did not provide geographic figures when requested by the BBC
- O2’s website does not advertise population or geographic coverage figures. The company did not provide figures to the BBC
Ofcom told the BBC it had published research allowing mobile users to compare the geographic coverage of each network.
It added that mobile operators were obliged to provide voice coverage – 2G or higher – to 90% of the UK landmass by the end of 2017, and it was “examining” ways it could improve data coverage geographically.
EE acknowledged there was a risk that its figures might appear poor compared to rivals’ if they did not match its commitment.
But Mr Allera said: “I am going to stick to what I believe is right, which is being transparent.”
Shaun Collins, from the consultancy CCS Insight, said the initiative was “long overdue”.
“This bold move by Marc Allera will be studied carefully by his competitors, it will be interesting to see their reactions,” he said.