The World’s Biggest Liar competition is held every year in Santon Bridge in Cumbria.

One recent winner began his tissue of lies by holding up his mobile phone and declaring: “I’ve got a signal.”

Many a true word is spoken in jest. Yet it’s no joke.

These days most people need a mobile phone, for their personal safety as well as for business.

Delivery drivers need to able to contact customers. Tourists coming to Cumbria expect to be able to use theirs here.

And they can be a lifeline for the elderly, and one way to combat isolation.

If they are frail or have mobility problems they may be fearful to go out of the house, too far from their landline.

But if they have a fall and have a functioning mobile phone to hand, they know they can summon help.

So why do many parts of Cumbria still have little or no mobile phone coverage?

The new 5G technology is coming soon, providing faster mobile internet access and greater capacity. Operator EE has announced it will introduce 5G in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester by the middle of this year. By the end of it 5G will reach 10 more cities.

But for many rural areas the older 3G or 4G technologies would be a start. Some don’t have the more basic services.

Mal Hilton is chairman of Northern Fells Broadband, a group campaigning for better connectivity for Cumbria.

He feels the Government want us to run, with 5G, before some of us can walk. Speedier 5G technology may well be the future of mobile phones - but many here are still waiting for the present.

The 4G or 3G services are sufficient for most residents, tourists and small businesses, Mr Hilton argues. And yet coverage for these is still distinctly patchy.

“In Welton parish there’s poor coverage, up to Bolton Low Houses it’s poor.

“In Mungrisdale it’s poor, west of Sebergham it’s poor. And there are areas with absolutely nothing. It’s not on.”

He adds: “I’m not convinced that we need 5G just yet. I don’t see what advantages it is going to provide for the normal domestic household. Most of us can’t tell the difference.

“The Government are waxing lyrical about 5G, but for most people it’s unnecessary.”

One of the reasons rural areas suffer, Mr Hilton explains, is that the mobile phone operators are unwilling to share their technology.

A company such as EE, Vodafone or O2 may erect a phone mast which will only work for their particular customers. Effectively they will have a monopoly in that area.

“The companies should be sharing masts, but they won’t do that, the Government are reluctant to force them to enable shared mobile phone coverage.

“They should be demanding that the companies put up masts to cover 100 per cent of the UK. It could be done, it’s not rocket science.”

Glenridding has adequate phone coverage – provided you’re with Vodafone. “They are the only people who have a mast that’s working,” says Madelaine Teasdale, a member of the local parish council. “So everyone here really has to use Vodafone.

“If a business want to deliver something and can’t find you they have to go back out of the village to ring.”

She adds: “For the number of tourists we get it’s a huge issue. A lot of people don’t realise that there’s no other reception until they’re here. It often catches them out. There’s a safety issue, for walkers.

“It’s been discussed for the six years that I’ve been on the parish council, and probably for longer.”

Like Mr Hilton she feels 5G isn’t needed at the moment. “We need to get proper coverage first.”

Some places which suffered poor connectivity have seen marked improvements. Three years ago Vodafone came to Caldbeck, and in the past 18 months most of the others followed. Before that there was virtually nothing.

“We had almost zero reception,” recalls Tim Cartmell, chairman of the parish council. “It was wonderful – you didn’t have people in the pub just looking down at their phones!”

More seriously, he adds: “For farmers it’s very handy to have. People running businesses like builders need it. It’s good for visitors.

“The reception is good within the village, but I don’t know about the outlying areas.”

And to council vice-chairman Paul Doherty, having excluded areas is not good enough.

He explains: “The Government were supposed to use money left over from the TV digital switchover for new mobile phone masts.

“Cumbria was supposed to get 10 to 12. In the end we got three.”

Internet access via a mobile phone is vital to many people. “Farmers have to post all their information to Defra digitally now. There are tourist hotspot without coverage – at Whinlatter for example, there’s zilch.

“Economic growth in rural areas is supposed to overtake urban areas in the next five years. Those are the Government’s own figures. But they’re not providing the digital infrastructure.”

He feels they should have followed the approach taken in Germany. “When the mobile companies wanted to go in, the German government said: ‘You have to do the rural areas first or you won’t get the contract.’”

Are there signs that the situation will improve? The Government telecom regulators Ofcom are promising to maximise 4G coverage across the country over the next five years, with 500 new mobile masts and 90 per cent coverage across the UK from all the networks.

But in the past operators have been reluctant to build masts in rural areas. So some have their doubts. One sceptic is Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron.

“With more local businesses relying on mobile phones, the standard of reception is becoming more and more important,” he says.

“That’s why it’s vital that Ofcom are regularly monitoring the delivery of 4G so we can properly hold mobile providers to account on their promises of a better service.”

The Country Land and Business Association, which represents landowners and rural businesses, is running a “4G For All” campaign, calling for greater investment from mobile operators in new masts in rural areas.

Its deputy president Mark Bridgeman adds: “Given mobile operators’ previous reluctance to invest in rural areas, annual reporting on progress should be compulsory.

“It would be a shame if Ofcom did not keep mobile operators to their word on expanding rural 4G coverage and ending the ‘digital wilderness’.”