Large parts of the UK are “poorly served” by broadband and mobile services, a report from communications regulator Ofcom says.
Rural areas suffered most when it came to browsing speeds and network availability, the annual Connected Nations study revealed.
Only 41% of rural premises received a mobile data link of of 2Mbps or higher, it found.
In urban areas, 83% of places enjoy similar or higher mobile data speeds.
Ofcom said there were some remote areas that still had no access to either mobile or fixed network connections.
“Mobile coverage has improved across the UK this year – but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a signal,” said Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s spectrum group director, in a statement.
About 91% of the UK’s landmass received good mobile data reception from at least one operator and 66% from all four operators, said the report.
“We’re planning rules that would extend good mobile coverage to where it’s needed,” Mr Marnick said.
Ofcom’s rules had been updated so spectrum for mobile services would become available more quickly, he said.
In addition, operators were being allowed to put antennas on 500 new transmitter sites to ensure outdoor data coverage improved “significantly”.
This would eventually lead to rural communities enjoying the mobile coverage people had come to expect in towns and cities, Mr Marnick said.
About 3% of rural premises in Scotland and 2% in Wales were currently unable to receive either a “good” mobile signal or a “decent” fixed broadband service, said Ofcom.
By “good” Ofcom means access to 4G mobile coverage indoors from at least one operator and by “decent” it means a broadband speed of at least 10Mbps.
The percentage of rural homes and offices that could receive data connections from all four UK operators in 2018 was 41%, compared only only 24% in 2017, it revealed.
Ofcom estimated that 39,000 properties, 0.1% of the UK total, could receive neither good mobile or decent broadband.
And without “alternative technologies”, continuing work to improve mobile coverage and extend fixed broadband may not help the most remote places that lacked both mobile and fixed access.
Rob Baillie, from price comparison site Compare My Mobile, said many consumers were faced with a stark choice when picking a network.
“People should not have to choose what mobile network they go with based on the quality of coverage and signal in the area they live in – but that’s been the reality for some time,” he said.
He added: “Consumers should only have to focus on the best deals available to them but instead they’ve had to opt for the safest bet, rather than the cheapest option.”
The report also gathered information about broadband services and found that superfast services, offering speeds of at least 30Mbps, were now available to 94% of homes and businesses.
Almost two million homes, 6%, could get full-fibre connections that rushed data around at speeds of up to 1Gbps.
And significant investment by communications companies should boost the availability of such services over the next few years.
But despite the growing availability of higher speed broadband, many people were still not taking up the fastest service available in their area, said the regulator.
Only 45% of premises were signed up to superfast broadband despite the service being available to more than double that number, it said.
Ofcom has launched the Boost Your Broadband campaign to help educate consumers and businesses about faster services in their region or neighbourhood.