DCMS proposes reforms aimed at eliminating mobile ‘not spots’, speeding up 5G rollouts

20 Apr 2021

The UK government has proposed changes to laws which it claims will ‘boost ongoing efforts to improve connectivity for people who live, work and travel in rural areas’. Announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in a press release, the legislative reforms will reportedly remove one of the biggest barriers to better coverage in the countryside by reducing build time and costs for new infrastructure, while still protecting rural areas by minimising any visual impact.

As per the government’s proposals, mobile network operators (MNOs) will be permitted to make existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules allow, while newly constructed masts will be allowed to be built to a maximum of 30 metres in unprotected areas. Stricter rules will apply in protected areas, however, including national parks, the Broads, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and world heritage sites, where the maximum height for new masts will be 25 metres. Also proposed are greater freedoms for slimline ‘monopole’ masts up to 15 metres in height – which the DCMS noted are less visually intrusive than standard masts and used for 5G rollout – in unprotected areas.

Meanwhile, the government’s plans also include proposals to bring better mobile coverage for road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed closer to highways. Further, the DCMS noted that another proposed reform will allow cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts without prior approval, while there will be greater flexibility for installing cabinets in existing compounds – a fenced-off sites containing masts and other communications equipment – to support new 5G networks.

With the DCMS having suggested that the proposed changes will enable cellcos to fit more equipment on masts so they can be more easily shared, it has claimed this will ‘turbocharge’ the delivery of the GBP1 billion (USD1.4 billion) Shared Rural Network, which is being built to eliminate 4G mobile ‘not spots’ across the country. In addition, the agency has suggested the revisions to the laws will also speed up the rollout of 5G networks.

A joint technical consultation between the DCMS and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) related to the matter has now been launched seeking views on the planned reforms, and this will run until 14 June 2021.