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Former O2 Boss Warns 5G Masts Could Swamp UK in Paper Work

Monday, September 19th, 2016 (2:48 pm) - Score 1,481
5G Mobile Wireless Radio Mast

The recently departed CEO of mobile operator O2 (Telefonica UK), Ronan Dunne, has warned that the Government’s new Digital Economy Bill 2016-17 is not radical enough to cope with the possibility of 500,000 applications for small new 5G masts.. and that’s just in London.

At present the new bill is already aiming to overhaul the existing Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which is needed in order to make it both easier and cheaper for wireless operators’ to deploy infrastructure on private land.

However Dunne told the FT (paywall) that the proposed legislation still doesn’t go far enough, which is partly because it hasn’t recognised that the next generation of ultra-fast 5G based Mobile Broadband technologies could require a different approach to infrastructure deployment.

Ronan Dunne said:

“It’s simply impossible to imagine a system that currently exists that could process 500,000 applications – never mind adopting a completely different approach to delivering the next generation of technology.”

We suspect that Dunne is referencing how 5G will use a range of significantly higher frequency radio spectrum, with Ofcom identifying several bands in different parts of the 6 – 100GHz range that could be candidates (here). A number of early trials have also harnessed bands like 28GHz (here) and 73GHz (here), although others did make use of sub-6GHz.

The problem with higher frequencies is that, even when using the latest millimeter Wave (mmW) technology, the signals can only travel so far and will struggle to penetrate through solid objects. This could be more of an issue in urban areas, where the infrastructure setup might require a much more complex web of “small mobile masts” and this might attract the extra paper work.

So far the Government’s response has been to put out a canned statement, which merely highlights the United Kingdom as being one of the “most digitally connected countries” in the world and largely overlooks the point that Dunne is trying to make.

On the other hand 5G will still be designed to work in lower frequency bands and realistically you can only relax the laws so much without the risk of handing operators too much power to install kit on private property. The issue here could thus be just as much the fault of 5G’s design as one of policy and its inability to adapt.

However 5G is still very much in the R&D stage and a firm standard isn’t likely to be formally agreed until around the end of 2017 or early 2018. Until then it would be difficult to adapt policy before we know precisely what approach will definitely be adopted.

In the same article Dunne also oddly predicts that in the “longer-term, we will forget this stupid debate about rolling out fibre cables … The UK taxpayers have to pay BT for digging holes in the ground, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in this day and age.”

On the above point Dunne seems to be ignoring the less economically viable areas outside of cities or towns and appears to suggest that Mobile technology is the way forward. However he seems to forget that radio frequencies are a finite resource and a resource that often attracts plenty of expensive data caps or other service restrictions.

Similarly those swanky new 5G networks will often be fuelled by some of the same fibre optic cables that he just criticised. Without those cables you’ll struggle to get 5G outside of the cities and even if you do then the service may still have to use lower frequency spectrum, which means slower speeds.

Certainly mobile operators can compete with and even beat fixed line services (we’ve seen some areas where going online via 4G or even 3G is better than the local ADSL2+ or even FTTC alternative), but nationally there’s still a long way to go and many areas that need improvement. Affordable unlimited usage plans with uncapped 4G Tethering would be a start.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar JustAnotherFileServer

    Yes the speeds seem to be getting faster with each generation, but also the distance from the mast that you can use it is getting shorter.

    Even people living next to our local mast struggle to get a good data speed because the signal is so weak.

  2. Avatar Steve Jones

    Really? Half a million applications in London alone. That’s roughly one for every 17 inhabitants. They will have to be pretty cheap to install…

  3. Avatar 3G Infinity

    A small cell deployment at 2.5GHz/2.6Ghz would require about 7,500 small cells for London – typically mounted on lampposts. There’s enough posts, but there is no process/procedure to allow an operator to get clearance across multiple councils in one application – this latter is the key point.

  4. Avatar 3G Infinity

    Also for clarity:

    mast – typically 300 to 500 feet high and always held in place with guy ropes or equivalent. Check out Membury Services on M4, has a 500′ mast

    tower – self supporting structure and typically 15m to 45m in height

    small-cell – can attach to a lamppost, traffic light, side of building, bus shelter, etc. These are the ones that will be deployed in their thousands.

    Dunne should know the difference

  5. Avatar Optimist

    Paperwork? All submitted on-line nowadays, shirley?

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