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Assembly Warn Wales Risks Falling Behind in Race to Rollout 5G Mobile

Thursday, January 24th, 2019 (9:21 am) - Score 704
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The Welsh Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee has warned that Mobile coverage in Wales “consistently lags behind the rest of the UK,” which could hamper the roll-out of future Gigabit capable 5G services unless changes are made (e.g. allowing 30m tall masts, stricter coverage requirements and more engagement).

Wales has long had a problem with weak mobile network coverage and a big part of the reason for that stems from the country’s difficult rural terrain, although in terms of geographic coverage they’re by no means as bad as Scotland. According to Ofcom’s most recent Connected Nations 2018 report, geographic 4G coverage from all operators in Wales stands as 57% (90% for just EE) and that compares with 38% in Scotland (78% for just EE).

wales mobile coverage connected nations 2018

So network coverage for 4G is improving in Wales, although today’s report notes that this is because of investment from mobile phone networks rather than any interventions by the Welsh Government (WG). Back in 2017 the WG recognised this by publishing a Mobile Action Plan, which proposed tax breaks for new masts, changes to permitted development rights (e.g. allowing 25 metre tall masts instead of the current 15m limit) and support for 5G.

However progress has been slow and today’s report, which examined the aforementioned plan, urges the WG to work with mobile providers as soon as possible in order to identify the challenges of 5G and how to tackle them. As a spokesperson for Mobile UK said, the Government is at risk of getting itself “ready for 4G, when we’ve already moved on to the next technology.”

Russell George AM (Conservative), Committee Chair, said:

“Mobile phone coverage in Wales consistently lags behind the rest of the UK. The advent of 5G promises to further integrate technology into our lives through smart devices such as autonomous cars. It is critical therefore that Wales is not left behind in this new era.

But while the country as a whole prepares for the next generation of mobile connectivity, there are still parts of Wales with no connection at all. That simply isn’t good enough and it is crucial these not-spots are covered, particularly in remote, rural areas.

We are therefore urging ministers to engage with the network operators, establish the challenges ahead and how best to tackle them face on.”

A Spokesperson for EE told the Committee:

“If you want to be able to share infrastructure, it needs to be large enough, big enough, to accommodate the equipment for multiple operators, and if, broadly, we are restricted to 15m high masts in Wales under permitted development rights, it makes that incredibly difficult.”

In response the committee has made several recommendations, many of which seem to echo those in the original Mobile Action Plan but also tend to go much further. For example, the WG is currently preparing to increase the maximum mast height to 25 metres but the Committee says they should aim higher and go for 30m.

Key Recommendations

* The Welsh Government should allow higher masts under the permitted planning regime;

* The Welsh Government should engage with mobile operators as soon as is practicable to identify the challenges of rolling out the 5G network, and consider how to address those challenges using the levers it has at its disposal; and,

* In areas outside of commercial viability, either providers should be obliged to provide coverage as part of the regulatory framework in which they operate, or the right to provide coverage should revert back to the public sector after a reasonable time.

Apparently there are a total of 10 recommendations, but at the time of writing we struggled to find the report document online and so cannot yet provide the full list (the most recent one from the committee concerns roads). We should also add that Ofcom have recently proposed tougher coverage obligations for operators as part of their forthcoming plan to auction of the 5G friendly 700MHz band (details).

The 700MHz Coverage Obligation

The binding coverage rules mean that up to two winning bidders would each have to, within 4 years of the award:

1. Extend good, outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK’s entire land area within four years of the award.

2. Improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices which they do not already cover. This means new coverage will be targeted at areas that are harder to reach; and

3. Provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas. This will ensure operators transform coverage in areas where it is lacking, rather than meeting the rules by just boosting existing signals.

On top of that the UK Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) last year put forward a bunch of additional changes.

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Michael V

    I’m on Three, around mid west Wales from turn to town coverage is really good. Most is VoLTE / Supervoice with 4G data network & 3G quite patchy. I get that if someone doesn’t have a phone that supports their Supervoice network, it can be frustrating. The hight of a mast certainly needs to be increased to a minimum of 30meters as terrain is challenging. 40meters should even be allowed for some places & for 4G data network & Supervoice network maximum power output should be increased from 32dbw.

  2. Avatar Margaret Corien Edwards

    How dare the Welsh government decide on the installation of 5G network without reporting to the Welsh people! Do they realise the health risks to everyone? Have engaged in technology of this magnitude before? Who have they consulted and what qualifications do they possess? Maybe they should consult with Mr Barry Trower who worked for the British government on this very 5G as it was classed as a weapon of war! Welsh people should be informed of these facts before any decisions on installing this dangerous pulse microwave technology is overlooked!

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