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Big UK Rule Changes to Boost Gigabit Broadband and 5G Rollout

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 (12:39 pm) - Score 17,171
uk map broadband mobile isp computer network

The UK Government has today confirmed a series of changes to both the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) and Mobile infrastructure planning, which when taken together are intended to help boost the on-going deployment of both “gigabit-capable” broadband and 5G mobile networks (as well as the Shared Rural Network).

First up we have the ECC, which exists to help facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks and has already been revised once over the past few years. Now this needs to be updated again in order to reflect the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC).

The EECC includes various changes, such as a proposal for “making it easier to change service provider and keep the same phone number, including rules for compensations if the process goes wrong or takes too long” (here). All of this is required by the EU to be implemented by December 2020 (the changes benefit the UK and so there has been little obstruction to that, despite Brexit).

In simple terms, Ofcom will be granted a series of new powers and some of the headline features have been summarised below. We’ve covered some of this before in more detail, such as the switching changes (here), but the government will also “bring in some new pro-investment measures from the Code that are in the UK’s national interest and support its plans for nationwide gigabit broadband.”

Summary of Key ECC Changes

Network forecasting – New powers for Ofcom to gather information on operators’ planned network rollout. Ofcom will share this information with the government to allow better targeting of public investment in poorly-connected areas. It will also publish non-confidential data about where rollout is not planned to help inform industry investment.

A focus on gigabit-capable networks – A new broad duty for Ofcom to promote connectivity, access to, and take-up of gigabit-capable networks to help the UK realise its full digital potential.

Promoting cooperation and competition in hard to reach places – In areas where it is costly or difficult to install new networks, such as urban blocks of flats and rural locations, Ofcom will have the power to impose obligations on operators already present to offer network access or to share equipment such as mobile masts with other operators.

Pro-investment regulation – Ofcom’s market review period will be increased from three to five years which will give a longer period of regulatory stability to the telecoms market and more certainty for investors in gigabit broadband.

Easier switching for consumers – Currently, when switching broadband providers, consumers need to liaise with their old and their new provider and juggle the relevant old service end dates and the start dates for new services. Under these changes, they will be able to contact their new provider, who will lead and co-ordinate the switching process so it is as smooth as possible and with minimal loss of service.

Better regulation of bundles – Consumers on bundled contracts, which include mobile and broadband but also other services such as video and music streaming, will be able switch providers more easily. This means they will avoid being locked into bundled contracts if, for example, providers make changes to their contracts, or something goes wrong with just one service in the bundle.

One thing we’d highlight above is that, on switching, consumers generally do not “need to liaise with their old and their new provider” when moving ISP within Openreach’s (BT) network. A Gaining Provider Led (GPL) migration system already exists on Openreach’s platform and so the above is more about extending that to include the new generation of alternative networks (FTTP etc.). Likewise work is under way to improve phone number porting between providers, including VoIP services.

Ofcom has already set out a lot of their plans for many of the aforementioned changes, but we’re still awaiting final statements for most of those. As for network forecasting, the Government says these powers will help encourage the commercial rollout of gigabit broadband in locations where it is not yet earmarked. The government will also be able to take into account this information when deciding where it will spend their £5bn (here).

Mobile Planning Reforms

Next up we have mobile planning and changes to Permitted Development (PD) rights – this part of the announcement only applies to England (devolved regions set their own rules), which we touched on last year (here).

At present 25 metres (height) is currently the legal limit in England for mobile masts / towers (it’s even lower in some parts of the UK, such as Wales), but outside of urban areas operators would also like to build even taller masts because this is one way to significantly boost coverage, while keeping costs down. Around the EU a lot of countries have a 50m limit and 25m also seems increasingly redundant in today’s era of towering wind turbines.

Before the usual mobile health fears start, taller masts actually put the radio equipment even further away from people on the ground (safer). Likewise having taller masts means that you need fewer small masts, which is another bonus on this front. Secondary legislation would be required in order to implement any proposed changes to the planning regulations.

Summary of Key Mobile Planning Changes

* New masts to be built taller, subject to prior approval by the planning authority, to deliver better coverage and allow more mobile operators to place equipment on them.

* Existing phone masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so that they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between mobile operators.

* Building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways to support better mobile coverage of the UK’s road networks, subject to prior approval.

* Cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts, without prior approval, to support new 5G networks.

Before amending the existing legislation, the government will carry out a technical consultation on the detail of the proposals, including the appropriate environmental protections and other safeguards, and the specific limits to be put on the widths and heights of phone masts.

The government say they will also expect Mobile operators – EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK – to “commit to further measures and assurances to ensure that the impact of new mobile deployment is minimised.” We’ll have to wait for more detail before knowing what that will look like.

Matt Warman, UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“We’re investing billions so no part of the UK is left behind by the opportunities and economic benefits that faster, more reliable and more secure digital connectivity brings.

These changes will help target public funding in hard to reach areas most in need of better broadband. It will also help mobile companies banish rural not-spots by upgrading and sharing their masts.”

Christopher Pincher MP, UK Housing Minister, said:

“Delivering much-needed new homes is at the heart of this Government’s mission to support people in every part of the country, and this means delivering the modern infrastructure needed to go with them.

We’re taking forward plans to extend mobile coverage, particularly for those in rural areas, so everyone can benefit from the latest technology and the jobs, opportunities and growth that comes with this.”

In recognition of the limited time between publication and the date when these measures will come into force, as well as the impact of COVID-19, the government and Ofcom said they have “sought to ensure that measures that directly bite upon industry including consumer protection measures will only be enforced at the appropriate time.”

Put another way, some changes will take awhile to implement. For example, the new broadband migration system, once actually announced by Ofcom (probably later this year), will need a year for full implementation after a final statement. Otherwise the government intends to consult in due course on all of the other proposed ECC changes, at least those that aren’t already in-progress.

Further information on the related consultation and plans can be found here (ECC) and here (mobile planning), although we don’t yet have too many specifics – until the appropriate legislation and regulation has gone through the usual motions.

UPDATE 1:02pm

We’ve just had a comment from Mobile UK.

Hamish MacLeod, Director at Mobile UK, said:

“Changes to planning regulations will make it easier to share, build and upgrade the increasingly critical mobile infrastructure. People expect to be connected wherever they are to a network that works, and we welcome the Government’s response; however, these proposals must be translated into legislative change this year, so that the UK’s economic recovery from COVID can be supported by world-class digital infrastructure.”

UPDATE 4:52pm

Broadband ISP Exascale has given their reaction.

Thomas Bibb, CEO of Exascale, said:

“Myself and Exascale welcome this change in legislation. We look forward to opening dialouge with Ofcom regarding our exciting plans for Telford and other areas in the UK.”

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Mark Jackson
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.
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30 Responses
  1. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

    Easier switching for consumers….. isn’t that already in place and has been for a couple years or more to my understanding?

    1. Avatar Michael V says:

      That’s what I was thinking.

      Ask current operator for PAC.
      PAC received.
      Give PAC to new operator.
      Number transferred within 2 working days.
      [Typically 24hrs]

      It was easy switching my mobile number two at the start of this month!

    2. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      I was thinking Broadband side of things but yeah good point also

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The article makes this clear. Easier broadband switching already exists, but only if you’re on Openreach’s network (and to a lesser extent, Virgin Media). But if you’re on any of the newer full fibre networks then there is no GPL solution today and that is going to change. Switching may also become quicker, but I’m not sure how they can do that without weakening anti-slamming protections.

      Likewise, phone number ports can become problematic, such as when moving to a new exchange area or switching away to VoIP. This is also being improved.

    4. Avatar Sandra says:

      Michael, My mobile uses an Esim – and an Esim can be ported in 12 seconds – doesn’t that just blow your balls!?

  2. Avatar Andrew Bate says:

    What we need are minimum download speeds and for all suppliers quoting average download speeds to actually supply those speeds. I went for faster fibre with a quoted download speed of 36 Mbps, and when installed I got 37 mbps. However a week later it was 28 Mbps and kept going down to what it is now which is 0 – 1.6 Mbps. I’m paying £22.99 a month for faster fibre and getting speeds equivalent to standard broadband, mobile broadband.I have complained twice to my supplier and they keep sending me an email with tips on it, like plug ADSL directly into telephone socket, doesn’t make any difference, download WiFi anylizer, WiFi signal is excellent. What they need to do is get open reach here and sort it out. But I’m only a customer and apparently I know nothing, just keep paying the bill and wasting my money, still have 15 months of contract left.
    TOTAL RIP OFF!!!!!

    1. Avatar chris conder says:

      Hi Andrew, it isn’t fibre broadband if it comes down a phone line. It is all part of the superfarce.

    2. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      @Andrew – Think you need to test your connection using an ethernet cable, if this is still an issue then provider needs to start investigating cause and send Openreach round to have a look at your line as there may be a fault.

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      Maybe you have mistaken “fibre” when in fact your ISP only provided copper-based VDSL. You wouldn’t be the first one to have fallen victim to false advertising, especially since the ASA is not doing its job!

      If you can, order proper fibre broadband!

    4. Avatar Leex says:

      If your speed is constantly dropping likely you have a line fault that is causing the copper VDSL router (your Not On fibre) to resync at lower speeds

      If you log into your router there be a page that be showing your synced speed if its below what you was sold as minimum guarantee speed they have to to fix the problem what do you know you do need to make sure that you’ve plugged your broadband the main master socket and you have no phone extension connected or you be charged (£125-150) if they find a fault after the master socket

    5. Avatar Leex says:

      And I agree at some point they are going to have to stop calling VDSL fibre when it is Near fibre
      really should be called
      faster broadband 40/10mb product
      faster boost broadband for 80/20mb

      Unsure what you would call G.Fast 150/30 product (talktalk call it fibre.. 150 or 300)

    6. Avatar CarlT says:

      Thank you to all those who took the request for help as an opportunity to rant about VDSL being advertised as fibre, the superfarce, etc.

      Really massive help to the guy in solving his issues. Nice one.

      I agree you need to check what you’re synching up to the cabinet at, making sure that there’s nothing on your end that might be causing a problem, and then Openreach visiting to see what’s up Andrew. Your ISP aren’t doing their job here.

    7. Avatar 125us says:

      It wouldn’t be an average if it was a guaranteed speed. That’s not what average means.

    8. Avatar Roger_Gooner says:

      A number of ISPs has signed up to Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice which enables a customer to exit their contract at no penalty if a minimum guaranteed speed is not provided. I believe these ISPs to be:

      •Virgin Media
      •BT
      •Sky
      •EE
      •TalkTalk
      •KCOM(Hull Area)
      •XLN
      •Plusnet
      •Daisy

    9. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      @Roger_Gooner. The code of practice has not helped anyone. The line information is now fairly accurate so all that has happened is that ISPs quote very conservative minimum speed estimates for the specific line or excluded the postcode. The only positive is that if a line drops below this due to a genuine line fault you can leave but as CarlT highlights this should initiate an engineering visit. If the line is synching ok for the distance then people are unlikely ever to drop below the minimum promised so the issue is more likely to be self inflicted or if testing on WIFI probably caused by interference from others.

  3. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    All this fast, faster, superfast, ultra-fast bollocks speed tags needs replacing with real set speeds with clear minimum service requirements. What’s fast this year will be slow in 5 years.

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      Fast and faster are just marketing names of products. Superfast and ultrafast both have Ofcom definitions: >30 Mb and >300 Mb download speed respectively.

      What’s fast this year will probably be about average in 5, much as what was fast 5 years ago is average now.

      Not going to be a massive demand for 8k screens. Just too many pixels for anything other than utterly enormous screens to be of value and I can’t see much else pushing bandwidth in the medium-term.

    2. Avatar Gary says:

      Surely Carl you do agree that the ASA ruling and the blatant use of Fibre in advertising to blur the reality of the service being offered needs sorting out ?

      When you have to call your Fibre service Full fibre to differentiate it from the other Fibre service that’s not really fibre, then things need changing.

      You cant advertise a Hybrid car as an EV despite the fact its partially electric, Forcing the change in the industry wouldn’t hurt the IPSs but it would provide some clarity.

      BTs full fibre page even says this
      “Power your whole home.
      With more devices connected than ever before, from doorbells to lightbulbs.”

      Umm not sure what kind of Fibre broadband they’re selling to do that ?

    3. Avatar Sandra says:

      Well the one that has a wireless router with it for said devices to connect to?

      Just a stab in the dark…

    4. Avatar CarlT says:

      I was one of the initial complainants a decade ago, Gary.

      I also note it held up to a judicial review.

      The only viable course of action seems to be to get over it.

      The constant whinging on here and copy/paste nonsense on the superfarce from the usual suspect certainly isn’t going to change it.

  4. Avatar AnotherTim says:

    Presumably the “easier switching for consumers” will only apply when there is more than one network available? In locations where there is only one superfast provider (or none), such as one of the many Altnets, there isn’t another network to switch to – so how easy it is is somewhat academic.

  5. Avatar Sandra says:

    Like everything they announce – nothing will come of it – never does with this clown of a Government. And yes I regret voting for Bozo

  6. Avatar Cool Breeze says:

    Some of this is too rooted way back in the past. A lot of people don’t use their land line phone any more, so keeping your number is less of a necessity than it used to be for a lot of people.

    Email addresses on the the other hand have become a much bigger anchor for people who have been using the Internet since the early days when “free” email services were not ubiquitous and people started using the email service provided by their ISP.

    BT for example will charge you an eye watering £7.50 a month to keep your @btinternet.com email address when you switch to another ISP.

    I know plenty of people who have had and used their original email address in so many different places that it would be almost impossible to change it absolutely everywhere without spending weeks trying to do so and then still miss some.

    1. Avatar IncognitoLondon says:

      ISP-provided internet charges are simply a tax on the lazy. It’s a simple three-stage process to avoid them:

      1. Create a Gmail account.
      2. Tell your most frequent contacts, and every month for, say, three months, check your old account and tell any people/companies you initially overlooked.
      3. Cancel your ISP-provided account.

      Easy! I have no sympathy for people who demand that prices be regulated and lowered because they’re too lazy to invest time and effort to move to a cheaper option.

    2. Avatar T says:

      Your laziness is why you’d be charged to keep your email. Can’t expect freebies all the time – Things like GMail & Outlook email addresses are free because they make much money elsewhere from you whether you believe that or not. If you’re not paying BT/TalkTalk or any other ISP for their services – why would they maintain a free service for you.

      As London said – it would as good as take nothing to switch emails and you’d probably get less spam in the short term by cherry picking who you give it to along with changing it on accounts that send you bills over email.

  7. Avatar Sokrates_d says:

    Presumably this is in part counterpoint to telling the telcos to rip out all of their existing Huawei infrastructure and starting again?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The planned changes were piece together over a year ago, before the Government even intended to countenance a complete ban of Huawei.

  8. Avatar Mike says:

    “despite brexit”

    4 years later, still bitter…

  9. Avatar 4wd says:

    They like to suggest how wonderful it is because sharing masts will be easier thus improving coverage with minimal extra cost – but that doesn’t help areas with no coverage from any operator.
    They love to brag about 95% coverage but it’s not much use when that’s all the North York Moors hill tops and most villages still can’t even send a text.
    Practically nothing has been done to improve things in 25 years but endless announcements about upcoming big improvements have been a repeating feature e.g. the farcical mobile infrastructure project a few years ago.
    They lie through their teeth and say what they think you want to hear but refuse point blank to actual roll service out to ‘difficult’ areas.

  10. Avatar Lloyd Bond says:

    All good in theory until 15m green mast at the bottom of your garden is upgraded to a 25m grey one seemingly designed the 1970’s BBC special effects department further decreasing the value of houses in your neighborhood and generally ruining what should be a pleasant view. Unenforced 25m masts give the Telco agents free reign to do as they please riding roughshod over local opinion. Still, as long as we get faster broadband who needs aesthetics eh? I bet no one from the Ofcom board has a 25m mast anywhere near their house ruining the view.

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