How to handle notspots

If you find yourself in a data notspot, there are ways to circumvent their drag on device connectivity.

Wednesday, 13 December, 2023

Back in the dying days of the last century, wireless internet access was taking off thanks to rapid improvements in network connection speeds and the development of mobile-oriented webpages.

Consumers began to realise internet connectivity wasn’t solely reliant on a modem and a cable sticking out of their phone socket.

It didn’t take long for areas not blessed with GPRS or EDGE mobile connectivity to be dubbed ‘notspots’ – a term which has subsequently stuck.

Given the breakneck pace of technological evolution in the late Nineties, it’s perhaps surprising that notspots remain an issue here in late 2023.

Yet notspots are undeniably a problem, even in city centre buildings or densely populated locations like sports stadiums.

Here’s how you can mitigate the impact of notspots on your connectivity…

A definition

Let’s start by dispelling the notion that a notspot offers no internet at all.

The official definition for this term varies depending on who you ask, but it’s widely perceived to be a location where connectivity is inadequate, unusably slow or periodically unavailable.

A mobile device might report a 5G connection yet be unable to load content, due to insufficient bandwidth or structural obstructions.

The latter can include thick walls or being below ground level in a basement. Even in a well-connected city centre, the structure of older buildings could muffle signals from the street outside.

Excessive consumer demand may also be an issue.

Your correspondent attended a football match earlier this month with 30,000 other people, in the centre of a large town with 5G masts nearby, and yet even basic webpages wouldn’t load.

Notspots relate to mobile data rather than hardwired fibre broadband or ADSL connections. Almost every UK home has cabled internet access nowadays, even if connection speeds are low.

How to stay connected

The first piece of advice regarding notspots is to prepare for them in advance.

If you’re going to a ticketed event where connectivity might drop out (such as deep inside a conference centre), load your tickets in advance or take a screenshot of them the day before.

If you’re going to a major event, accept you might be offline. Ask people to ring you in an emergency, rather than thinking they can reach you via WhatsApp or Messenger.

Scan available WiFi networks to see if there’s an open network you can join. Does the place you’re in have public WiFi provision and an advertised password?

Some venues host several WiFi profiles, so ensure you’re attempting to join a customer-facing network rather than a staff one, for instance.

Bear in mind that public WiFi networks are often insecure and shouldn’t be used for sensitive communications without either a VPN or the Tor browser.

Even if there’s no mobile data, mobile devices should still support SMS messaging and calls. These traditional (yet often overlooked) options maintain essential channels of communication.

If the issue appears to be structural, try moving around inside a building. Where possible, sit beside windows, doors or street-facing walls where 4G/5G networks might be able to penetrate.

If you’re using mobile network data, bear in mind that each of the UK’s big four mobile networks will have notspots in different locations.

Notspots are caused by everything from user numbers to mast proximity, so don’t be surprised to see other people online while you struggle to connect. The roles might be reversed elsewhere.

Finally, you may be able to temporarily resolve notspot status simply by moving outside/upstairs/along the street, allowing you to quickly check Google Maps or load a webpage.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!