Thousands of mobile phone users were unable to make or receive calls in Borehamwood this week and problems could continue until next year when a new mast is built.

Customers of phone giant Orange lost network coverage because of three faulty telephone masts in the area.

Technicians were unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem.

Some customers were told the problem could take four months to be fixed, until a planned new phone mast is built, but Orange said service would be restored much sooner'.

Lauren Abery, 25, of Abbots Lane, said the situation had cost her time and money. Her anger was heightened when an Orange customer service operator told her to leave town to use her phone. "They told me to go to Potters Bar to check my messages," she said. "What's the point of paying £600 a year for a phone line for that? They say they're the number one service provider in the UK, but not in Borehamwood."

Ms Abery, an assistant producer for an independent television company, relies on her mobile phone for work and keeping in touch with family.

"There's five of us in our house, all on Orange, and we're all having problems," she said.

"They told me on Monday that it will take four months to fix the problem."

An Orange operator told the Borehamwood & Elstree Times that the problem might not be fixed until next year.

Although an official spokesman then claimed the problem would be fixed by Tuesday, customers still had limited network coverage when this newspaper went to print.

"I don't think it's going to take four months," said the Orange spokesman. "A number of Orange customers in the Borehamwood area are experiencing difficulties making and receiving calls. The problem is very rare and it is something we will attempt to fix as soon as possible. The reason some customers were told that service would not be restored until the following year was because that is the completion date of a new mast planned for the Borehamwood area."

The company, which has 14.2 million UK customers, refused to disclose the exact location of the masts but said it had experienced problems accessing the site.

Disgruntled Borehamwood shopkeeper Uzman Yusuf, 36, said: "If they can't give me coverage, I'll go to another network."

A spokesman for Carphone Warehouse, in Borehamwood, said: "We've had people come in saying their Orange phones are not working. If you're on a network and can't get reception, it's pointless having a phone. Customers should be reimbursed somehow."