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Mobile Operators Call on UK Councils to Help Boost Network Coverage

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 1,261

The trade association for mobile network operators in the United Kingdom, Mobile UK, has today published a new report that aims to improve service coverage (2G, 3G, 4G etc.) by highlighting how local councils can help to both build and benefit from new telecoms infrastructure.

According to Ofcom’s most recent Spring 2018 Connected Nations update (here), some 92% of UK premises can receive indoor call coverage from all operators (i.e. Three UK, Vodafone, O2 and EE) and this falls to 88% for mobile data (3G/4G) connectivity. Sadly geographic 4G data coverage from all operators falls to just 57% (70% when 3G is included), but EE alone has already taken this to 90% and expects to reach 95% by the end of 2020.

The good news is that the climate for network expansion appears to be improving, particularly in light of the recent joint statement by landowners and telecoms providers to put aside past “problems” and commit to support the recently revised Electronic Communications Code (here). The ECC is designed to make it easier and cheaper for mobile or fixed line broadband ISPs to access public or private land in order to build new networks.

The Government’s recent Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (details) has similarly proposed yet more improvements to boost investment and coverage in the future generation of ultrafast 5G mobile networks. Nevertheless Mobile UK still sees room for improvement, particularly in how local government engage with their plans.

Gareth Elliott, Mobile UK’s Head of Policy and Comms, said:

“Building Mobile Britain relies on strong partnerships and local Government has a vital role to play in delivering this goal. Our report, Councils and Connectivity, outlines how proactive local government leadership, planning and the sharing of ideas can enable and unlock opportunities to achieving a world-class connected economy.”

The association’s new report highlights three areas where it believes local government could have most impact, such as by adopting a more “proactive approach to mobile“, as well as planning for the long term by “embedding mobile connectivity into every aspect of local government thinking” and building partnerships and best practice, not least through the collaboration and exchange of ideas.

Adopt a proactive approach

1. Showing leadership and political will. Local government should see mobile connectivity as a way to improve the lives of residents and not just as a way to raise revenue. There are numerous examples of how different local organisations – combined authorities, local authorities and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) – have promoted the economic and social benefits that flow from good mobile connectivity.

2. Creating local government ‘digital champions’. This could be a Local Authority cabinet post or committee focussed on mobile connectivity, a senior role dedicated to making better use of mobile/digital technology (such as a Chief Digital Officer) or a council officer with responsibility to improve mobile connectivity. Equally, when local government is a proactive user of mobile technology it is more likely to be a proactive enabler of mobile technology.

3. Providing training to ensure appropriate skills and knowledge. A key example of this is ensuring planning officers are aware of the requirements of mobile infrastructure. In the past, mobile operators have played their part by providing local planning authorities with professional development workshops on technological and other advances within telecommunications.

4. Lobbying to remove the barriers to mobile infrastructure deployment. Local government can use its influence to improve the environment for investment in mobile infrastructure. For example, if a planning regulation is thought to act as a barrier to the deployment of mobile infrastructure, local government should make representations to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Plan for the long-term

1. Embedding mobile connectivity in plans for local economic development. The development of mobile infrastructure should be included in Local Plans and all other types of local economic strategy – including those produced by LEPs. This will mean that the importance of mobile connectivity is always considered when thinking about future economic outcomes.

2. Auditing public sector assets as potential locations for mobile infrastructure. Using public buildings, structures and open land to install mobile infrastructure has supported widespread improvements to connectivity. The charge for use of these assets should be set on the basis set out in the Electronic Communications Code, and not at rates that disincentivise investment. This will ensure that connectivity is valued over revenue.

3. Learning lessons from the rollout of broadband. There are numerous examples – such as Connecting Devon and Somerset and Connecting Cambridgeshire – of how concerted effort has improved broadband provision in local areas. For instance, Connecting Devon and Somerset uses collaborations that involve different tiers of local government, local economic development funding and private providers to achieve its objectives. These examples can be used as a template for providing better mobile connectivity, while recognising that broadband provision benefitted from higher levels of public investment.

4. Utilising economic development funds. There are examples of local authorities supporting the deployment of mobile infrastructure by tapping into funds for local economic development. For example, via the use of LEP funds or through central government funds for economic development.

Build partnerships and share best practice

1. Exploring different models of collaboration with the mobile industry. Examples of current partnerships include regular catch-up meetings and roundtables, which support a collaborative approach between the mobile industry and local political and business leaders.

2. Sharing best practice and skills with other local bodies. The sharing of best practice is already happening in new structure of local government and economic development, such as combined authorities and Midlands Connect.

3. Building internal links between departments – barrier busting at a local level. Ensuring that there are strong links between economic development and planning directorates within local authorities is crucial for a joined-up approach to mobile connectivity.

4. Establishing “connectivity considerations” as best practice in the planning phase of new developments. Any development – from upgrades to the road network to new housing estates – should consider connectivity requirements prior to construction beginning, not after construction is complete. At its most basic level, the planning for large-scale developments should include an impact assessment that looks at mobile coverage needs.

As ever one of the biggest challenges in delivering on all of this will be that local authorities have to be very mindful of their constituents, many of which won’t always welcome the building of new infrastructure, particularly if they deem it to be unattractive or obtrusive in their environment.

Likewise some of the proposed measures may cost extra to deliver and a lot of councils currently have funding problems to consider. Otherwise the full report can be downloaded here (PDF).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Franklin says:

    Forget the poor 4G roll on 5G next year cos 5G coverage will be much stronger than 4G. Save every £££ for 5G network.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      My understanding is that 5G isn’t stronger its only faster due to standards such as 5G NR. Initially it will use LTE technologies but eventually when we move to mmWave we will need many more transmitters closer together. Whilst progress is gathering pace 5G devices will still not be available in numbers until next year and will inevitably be introduced in areas where there is already good 4G coverage. Whilst I am not an advocate of 100% mobile coverage for every inch of the UK (nor indoor as we have WIFI Calling) we still have many rail, road and towns with poor mobile data coverage and therefore they still need suitably sited transmitters. In addition the user base of 4G phones will last for some time particularly as many have invested in expensive devices and many are finding the reliability of signal more important than speed.
      So whilst we should look forward to 5G we still need the mobile companies in partnership with others to finish the 3G/4G job.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Strictly speaking 5G coverage could be stronger, albeit not so much an issue of the technology but more due to Ofcom’s forthcoming coverage requirements in the 5G focused 700MHz band. But it will be years before 5G reaches 4G’s current coverage levels.

    3. Meadmodj says:

      Yes if Ofcom complete the clearance of 700Mhz and auction off the spectrum late 2019 then we may see it in 2020. Whilst 700Mhz will have more reach it is unlikely to have the capacity to deliver if hit hard. 5G performance will come on the other frequencies and improve until eventually we get mmWave. Not all UK providers may get 700Mhz spectrum.
      Interestingly due to the lack of 5G phones short term in the US they are proposing a “hockey puck” 5G WIFI hotspot device which you can keep in your pocket and use WIFI between the phone and the puck for data. If the successful UK providers follow this suggestion then it will be an interesting time not just for mobile data but broadband competition (current policy of data limits accepted).

    4. 5G Infinity says:

      5G will depend on 4G Advanced Pro (4G+) when out of coverage for many years after its launch, eg you get 5G in the High Street and its great, but 5G in a rural area will be 4G – so that consumers are not to disappointed with the latter operators will need to ensure 4G as delivered is as good as it gets, so today its possible with 4T/4R MIMO to get good 600Mbps and at 8T/8R MIMO 1Gbps all at 4G and those are upgrades to an existing 4G network and thus less expensive to achieve that a full 5G NR rool lout everywhere.

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