Government launches plans to boost rural 5G

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The government has detailed a package of funding and measures designed to ensure the benefits of 5G reach rural areas and not just major cities.

A consultation on network deployment regulations will be launched, aimed at easing mobile operators’ most common complaints, such as the amount of red tape required to deploy and upgrade infrastructure and restrictive regulations.

Under the proposals, operators would be able to build taller mobile masts in rural areas – meaning fewer sites would be needed to cover a wide area – and share infrastructure. Both measures would increase deployment and cost efficiencies, boosting rural coverage.

Rural 5G coverage

Operators would also be allowed to strengthen ground-based masts and build radio equipment cabinets without prior approval, and to build building-based masts nearer to roads.

The government will also invite views on how the impact of this new infrastructure can be mitigated. This might include assurances regarding the greater use of existing sites, and the removal of redundant masts.

“The current planning system does not support the fast, efficient rollout of 5G technology that is vital for the UK’s digital economy,” said Hamish MacLeod, director of industry body Mobile UK.

“We welcome the Government looking at simplifying planning processes to deliver better connectivity, and we stand ready to work in partnership to ensure these much-needed reforms happen as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, a £30 million ‘Rural Connected Communities’ competition will select ten applications to receive the funding as part of a previously announced £200 million pot for 5G. Successful applicants will look to build on other projects, including the 5G ‘RuralFirst’ initiative, which has tested media, agricultural, and energy use cases in Orkney, Shropshire and Somerset.

The hope is that the findings will stimulate commercial investment that will benefit rural communities.

“The British countryside has always been a hotbed of pioneering industries and we’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age,” said Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan. “We’re investing millions so the whole country can grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next generation 5G technology.

“In modern Britain people expect to be connected wherever they are. And so we’re committed to securing widespread mobile coverage and must make sure we have the right planning laws to give the UK the best infrastructure to stay ahead.”

Although 5G has significant potential for rural areas, initial deployments will be focused on the busiest areas of major cities.

Although EE has committed to delivering 4G to 95 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2020, areas with coverage from all four major operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – are less common. Ofcom’s most recent figures suggest 57 per cent of the UK’s geographic area is completely covered, while seven per cent is uncovered by any operator at all.


Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.