Wales seeks to improve mobile coverage
If the key areas identified by the Welsh Government get actioned it should help to encourage the building of more mobile masts across Wales and thus give residents and business the coverage they keep clamouring.
The Welsh Government has published a plan today that identifies nine actions it can take to help improve mobile coverage in Wales, the scale of the task due to the geography is illustrated by the stat that to cover 1 million people in Wales with TV requires 67 masts, but in England the same number can be served with just 12, 25 in Northern Ireland and 45 in Scotland. Mobile coverage of course requires many more masts as the mobiles we almost all carry do not have the same transmit power as a TV mast (thankfully) and it is worth highlighting that if the dream of Gigabit mobile connectivity from 5G is to be realised you are looking at mini masts at a much higher density than existing 4G masts.
The Welsh Government is somewhat limited as mobile connectivity is the responsibility of the UK Government in Westminster, but the action plan does set out things that are within the remit of those elected officials in Wales.
The areas looked at are:
- Planning - a research report is expected in the Autumn and a refresh of Planning Policy Wales will be published by Spring 2018. This is particularly important with the cell density changes expected for 5G roll-outs
- Public Assets - an audit of existing asset registers and standardised documentation, thus making it easier for mobile operators to use existing public land for masts and utilise lamp posts for 5G nano cells.
- Non-domestic rates - apparently this accounts for 22% of the current total revenue costs of a mobile mast site. So a reduction in these rates for specific mobile mast sites is to be considered.
- Regulation - while governed by Ofcom the aim is for the Welsh Government to work more closely with Ofcom.
- Innovation and emerging technologies - to continue to exploit opportunities to test and develop new technologies e.g. 5G testbed and TV White Space.
- Infill solutions - potential scope for public intervention
- Transport - exploiting public land alongside highways and Network Rail assets to extend mobile coverage along rail routes.
- ECMCP - Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme - work with the Home Office to ensure masts delivered as part of that programme are future proofed and/or be enhanced to help deliver better voice/data coverage for the public.
- Major Events - A permanent mast has already been built at the site of the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells and to further identify other high attendance events across Wales that would benefit.
The use of public infrastructure for 5G or existing 4G services is something being exploted already, and an increasing number of local authorities are already in partnerships that sees public Wi-Fi delivered that way.
As we have seen countless times mobile masts tend to meet a fair amount of local resistance so any plans to improve coverage need to ensure community engagement because all too often one finds stories of objections to new masts followed by complaints about poor mobile coverage at a later date. Something similar is happening with full fibre roll-outs which can be more disruptive (not always we should add) in terms of the need to close a road to ensure workers and public safety where objections are raised and broadband providers are understandably redeploying elsewhere.
One comment we would like to add is that mobile masts for far too many years have been seen as a cash cow by land owners and just like the change that seems to have taken place with landlords increasingly seeing that ensuring new premises or existing flats rent/sell better with decent broadband access we hope a similar change will happen with mobile masts.