Taller mobile masts could reduce mobile not spots

20 April 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Government confirms proposals to allow mobile masts to be taller and wider to help eliminate rural signal blind spots.

Under the plans, masts would be able to be five meters taller and two meters wider than they currently can be under existing rules.

The Government hopes this would incentivise investment to improve existing infrastructure rather than building more, although protected areas like national parks would be subject to stricter controls.

A consultation is now open under 14 June 2021 to accept stakeholder responses.

mobile signal rural none

Taller masts

The headline in this proposal from the Government is that mobile masts will be able to be built five meters taller than previously, and they can also be two metres wider as well.

This would take the potential height of masts up to 30 meters in unprotected areas and 25 meters in protected areas like the Broads, national parks, heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

In addition to this main point, however, there are a couple of other interesting elements:

  • Existing mobile masts would be able to be strengthened without prior approval so they can be upgraded for 5G services and shared between operators.
  • Greater freedoms for deployment of slimline masts up to 15 metres high used for 5G rollout, so operators may not need prior approval from local authorities.
  • Cabinets containing radio equipment could be deployed alongside masts without prior approval in existing compounds to support new 5G networks.

At the same time, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is also working on a new code of practice to help mobile network operators and local authorities work more effectively together.

Improving infrastructure

As with all planning reforms of this type, there's likely to be plenty of opposition to the idea of building taller masts, even though the Government has pledged to protect important areas with a 25-metre cap.

They're hoping to incentivise networks to expand existing infrastructure rather than building multiple new masts, with the idea being that connectivity can be improved without the need for extra masts.

Perhaps this will appease some critics, and it's definitely the case that rural mobile users remain frustrated by the lack of coverage.

The latest annual survey undertaken by the National Farmers Union (NFU) found 11% of farmers have no indoor mobile signal at all and 18% of smartphone users don't have access to 4G.

If these proposals are condemned by countryside advocates on the basis that they'll be a blight on he environment, critics may then need to explain how they expect connectivity to be improved.

Shared Rural Network

Underlying the Government's proposals is the need for mobile network operators to meet the coverage targets set out under the Shared Rural Network (SRN) agreement.

Each operator must commit to at least 95% nationwide coverage by 2024, with individual targets in place too for the four nations of United Kingdom.

Operators have already made a start on their infrastructure improvements, and Vodafone, O2 and Three confirmed in January they would be building another 222 sites to be used by all three networks.

EE subsequently announced they were making improvements to 579 sites by the end of 2021 in a statement put out in February.

The latest mobile report released by Opensignal last week shows EE are still the operator to beat when it comes to 4G coverage, but the SRN agreement coupled with the Government's proposals on masts may work to bridge that gap.

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