New laws to wipe out rural mobile ‘not spots’ and speed up rollout of next-generation 5G technology

20 Apr 2021 03:30 PM

Mobile signal blindspots will be wiped out under government plans to level up rural areas with better connectivity and unlock tech innovation in the countryside.

The government is proposing law changes to boost ongoing efforts to improve connectivity for people who live, work and travel in rural areas.

The reforms will remove one of the biggest barriers to better coverage in the countryside by reducing build time and costs for new infrastructure while protecting rural areas by minimising any visual impact.

Under the proposals, mobile companies will be allowed to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit. This will increase the range of masts and allow operators to fit more equipment on them so they can be more easily shared.

The move will turbocharge the delivery of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network being built to eliminate 4G mobile ‘not spots’ in the countryside and will speed up rollout of next-generation 5G networks.

It will incentivise mobile firms to focus on improving existing masts over building new ones, with fewer new masts needed for rural communities to get a better signal now and to take full advantage of future 5G-connected technology. This includes innovations in remote healthcare, self-driving vehicles and smart devices such as fridges, TVs and heating systems.

Stricter rules will apply in protected areas, including national parks, the Broads, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites.

The plans also include proposals to bring better mobile coverage for road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways.

The news comes as industry experts and academics set out recommendations on how to reduce the UK’s reliance on a small number of equipment vendors in the telecoms supply chain.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden yesterday said:

We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities.

Today we are setting out plans to make it easier for mobile firms to transform connectivity in the countryside and propel villages and towns out of the digital dark ages - providing a welcome boost for millions of families, businesses and visitors.

These practical changes strike a careful balance between removing unnecessary barriers holding back better coverage, while making sure we protect our precious landscape.

Most new masts will still need to be approved by local authorities, which will have a say on where they are placed and their appearance. Robust conditions and limits will remain in place to make sure communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected.

Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK, yesterday said:

We welcome the proposals set out in this consultation which will provide better certainty and flexibility to technological changes required to build world-class mobile networks. We urge the Government that to assist mobile companies to meet its ambitious targets for deployment, it brings about legislative change as quickly as possible.

A joint technical consultation between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was yesterday published with details of the changes. It follows an earlier consultation in 2019 on the principle of the reforms.

The consultation seeks views on reforms to permitted development rights in England:

DCMS will also lead on a new code of practice for mobile network operators. This will provide updated guidance on how operators and local authorities can work together to build communications infrastructure the country needs. It will also contain best practice for the siting of new infrastructure, particularly in protected areas, and ensuring stakeholders are properly consulted.

The consultation will run for eight weeks and closes on 14 June 2021.

Telecoms Diversification Taskforce – final report

Led by former BT boss Lord Livingston of Parkhead, the Telecoms Diversification Taskforce was set up by the government to provide independent advice on how to boost competition and innovation in the UK telecoms market and build an open, sustainable and diverse supply chain.

It follows the government’s decision to remove Huawei equipment from UK 5G networks by 2027. While necessary to protect national security, it means the UK will be reliant on only two other 5G equipment suppliers: Nokia and Ericsson.

The taskforce’s report will support the government as it delivers its £250 million Diversification Strategy, mitigating the resilience risks to 5G networks ahead of the 2027 deadline so people can have confidence accessing the economic and social benefits brought by 5G. It recommends:

Now the taskforce has completed its work, the government will study the findings and respond fully in due course.

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, yesterday said:

Our £250 million strategy will unleash a wave of innovation across the UK and make sure companies have a wide range of revolutionary 5G technology to choose from that is trusted and secure.

I welcome today’s report from the Telecoms Diversification Taskforce. It will be instrumental in helping us prepare our networks for next-generation mobile technologies. We will now consider its recommendations and respond in due course.

Lord Livingston of Parkhead, Chair of the Taskforce, yesterday said:

It has been a privilege to lead the Taskforce and help drive forward the government’s important work to diversify the telecoms supply chain and reduce reliance on high-risk vendors.

The government’s Diversification Strategy set out a clear ambition and the Taskforce has suggested concrete actions and policy recommendations to help it meet its aims.

The UK now has the opportunity to create a more diverse network and be an international leader in the adoption of next-generation network technology. This will present substantial opportunities for UK based suppliers and users alike.

I would like to thank all of the Taskforce, made up of an outstanding team of experts from industry and academia, for their commitment and expertise in producing this report.

Notes to Editors:

Shared Rural Network


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