The changes are outlined in a consultation on mobile connectivity. They include a number of alterations to planning regulations so that masts can be installed with more flexibility – such as away from the edges of buildings or mounted on walls – and would also make it easier for operators to share infrastructure.
Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said that the changes would help to ensure that the UK remained on target to bring connectivity to as many people as possible, especially as mobile access to the internet becomes a key part of this strategy.
“Broadband is essential for driving economic growth and we are transforming broadband in the UK by tripling speeds and getting 10 million more homes and business online,” he said. “Demand for mobile broadband in particular is increasing at a phenomenal rate. We need to ensure that businesses and individuals can access this as soon as possible, if its full potential as a driver for growth is to be realised.”
The industry has been asked for feedback on the proposals in the consultation. Responses are open until 14 June.
The Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which speaks on behalf of UK mobile operators, said it welcomed the proposals put forward on first glance, noting that there have been some inconsistencies in the past that have caused issues.
“A lot of these proposals will do a lot to help, especially as operators are rolling out or upgrading their equipment for 4G services and improving existing 2G and 3G services,” John Cooke, executive director of the MOA, told V3.
In particular, Cooke said some of the changes around deployments would help by allowing operators to install larger antennas but without affecting the landscape.
“With the changes on new roof top sites we can install masts up to six metres high, rather than four, and this will actually reduce the visual impact as it will allow operators to place masts further back but still with better coverage," he said.
Cooke also cited the importance of easing planning regulations in rural areas to allow communities in remote locations to benefit from access, although noted that the same restrictions remains in place for national parks and areas of natural beauty.
“You can understand why the government has done that but people want better coverage in rural areas and we [operators] get grief from people for not offering that, but often it’s just not possible,” he added.
Mobile operators in the UK are currently in the process of improving their networks for future requirements based around 4G. Vodafone and O2 have already agreed to a network-sharing deal in order to keep pace with EE, which has had a head start in the 4G race and now boasts over 300,000 customers.
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