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National roaming increases resilience of phone networks

Mobile phone networks are critical infrastructure elements as more and more services depend on wireless connections. According to research by PhD student Lotte Weedage, the resilience of phone networks improves when Dutch providers use national roaming. She recently published her results and created an interactive tool to look at the resilience of Dutch mobile networks.

Within the Netherlands, your mobile phone only uses the masts of your own provider. Other providers' masts can only be used to reach emergency services. As soon as you cross the border, you can switch on roaming to use other masts. This way, roaming enables you to call and text or use the internet while abroad.


At the national level, we still make little use of roaming. In fact, according to Weedage, it also carries a number of risks. "A lot of things have to be arranged in the providers' organisations. In order to bill fairly, it must be exactly clear which customer uses which mast. And of course, the coverage of their network is something providers can compete on. With national roaming, every provider essentially offers the same internet network," Weedage says.

Therefore, she analysed the Dutch mobile network infrastructure. In a model, she combined data from national agencies on infrastructure, population distribution and urbanisation level. In this way, she created a simulation of the mobile network in the Netherlands. In that simulation, national roaming provides 13% more coverage in some areas of the Netherlands and also increases the number of people with a good connection by up to 55%.


To improve the Dutch network, national roaming does not even need to be fully implemented. Even if only a few networks shared their transmission masts, or only in rural areas, it is possible to achieve similar percentages. "Actually, the three Dutch mobile network operators should cooperate more to give everyone in the Netherlands a better and faster connection," says Weedage.


Alongside her research, Weedage built an interactive map that shows exactly how good the mobile internet is in all places in the Netherlands. On the map, you can see exactly how well the three Dutch mobile network operators (Odido, KPN and Vodafone) are doing per province, municipality and postal code. You can also see how the network improves if national roaming is allowed. The map can be found on her website.


Lotte Weedage is a PhD student in the Discrete Mathematics and Mathematical Programming research group (DMMP; Faculty of EEMCS). Her supervisors are Dr Clara Stegehuis and Dr Suzan Bayhan. Together with Syllas R. C. Magalhães, Weedage published their research, titled ‘On the Resilience of Cellular Networks: How Can National Roaming Help?’, in the scientific journal IEEE Transactions on Network and Service Management.

DOI: 10.1109/TNSM.2024.3352168 

K.W. Wesselink - Schram MSc (Kees)
Science Communication Officer (available Mon-Fri)