Operators allowed to build taller masts for better 5G coverage

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The government is to introduce legislation that will permit mobile operators to build taller and wider masts in a bid to speed up the rollout of 5G and advance the ambitions of the Shared Rural Network (SRN).

Operators have long called for greater freedom with regards to infrastructure construction, arguing that the current restrictions and planning processes add additional time and expense that hinder their abilities to build networks.

Part of the issue is that many communities and local authorities oppose new masts on aesthetic considerations. However, the government believes a balance must be struck given that better mobile and broadband network improvements are a pillar of the government’s post-pandemic economic strategy.

UK connectivity

“We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“Today we are setting out plans to make it easier for mobile firms to transform connectivity in the countryside and propel villages and towns out of the digital dark ages - providing a welcome boost for millions of families, businesses and visitors."

“These practical changes strike a careful balance between removing unnecessary barriers holding back better coverage, while making sure we protect our precious landscape.” 

This latest package of measures, which will be voted on in parliament, will increase the height of existing masts from up to 20 metres to 25 metres and can go even higher with permission from local authorities.

It will also be possible to widen existing masts by up to 2 metres and new masts can be built up to 30 metres. The taller and wider the mast, the more physical equipment it can host and the greater the coverage it can provide. In all cases, there are additional restrictions for protected areas such as national parks.

The proposals would also allow operators to build less obtrusive infrastructure such as slimline masts and on-building masts without prior permission – although regulators would need to be notified - and no permission would be required to strengthen existing sites.

The ability for masts to support a greater volume of radio equipment is essential for 5G and for the Rural Network (SRN), which will see operators share infrastructure in rural areas.

Industry body Mobile UK has welcomed the changes, which it says would be accompanied by robust safeguards that ease any concerns.

“We welcome the proposals set out in this consultation which will provide better certainty and flexibility to technological changes required to build world-class mobile networks,” declared Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK.

“We urge the Government that to assist mobile companies to meet its ambitious targets for deployment, it brings about legislative change as quickly as possible.”

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.