Rollout of 5G in rural areas draws closer under government plans

02 October 2019

The government is also looking to simplify planning rules to improve rural mobile coverage

The government is also looking to simplify planning rules to improve rural mobile coverage

The UK government has launched a £30m UK-wide competition to spark a tech revolution in countryside communities and help rural areas seize the opportunities presented by 5G technology.

Spearheaded by secretary of state for digital Nicky Morgan, the Rural Connected Communities competition will see up to 10 rural locations selected to run innovative trials of 5G applications and stimulate commercial investment in 5G technology, which offers mobile speeds 10 to 20 times faster than previous generations.

It is the latest wave of £200m funding to pioneer 5G testbeds in the UK and deliver the benefits of the highest speeds of mobile connectivity available.

The technology is already being used in the Orkney Islands and Shropshire, to remotely monitor salmon fisheries and improve efficiency of wind farms.

Furthermore, the 5G trials demonstrate how farming can be transformed through targeted crop-spraying and soil analysis with drones and tractors.

In addition, the new funding will build on projects like these and trial other uses of 5G in rural communities to help drive business growth, enhance lives and encourage innovation.

“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 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.”

Meanwhile, the government has also launched a consultation on proposals to simplify planning rules to improve rural mobile coverage across the country. 

Reforming planning laws for mobile infrastructure was a pledge made by prime minister Boris Johnson during his campaign to replace Theresa May.

He said he wanted to “level-up connectivity” for communities across the UK, further support the roll-out of 5G and boost the economy.

The consultation on potential changes to permitted development rights for mobile infrastructure in England includes proposals on a number of points, such as changing the permitted height of new masts to deliver better mobile coverage, promote mast sharing and minimise the need to build more infrastructure.

Currently masts on public land must be no more than 25m (82ft) high but ministers want to relax these rules and so the UK could see some as tall as 50m.

Other proposals include allowing exist-ing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be up-graded for 5G and for mast sharing, deploying radio equipment cabinets on protected and unprotected land without prior approval, ex-cluding sites of special scientific interest and allowing building-based masts nearer to roads to support 5G and increase mobile coverage.

Mark Bridgeman, deputy president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: “The vast potential of the rural economy will only be fulfilled when everyone in the coun-tryside has full mobile connectivity, and we welcome DCMS’s intent to deliver the prime minister’s promise of internet access for all.”

He added that the current situation, “where only 67% of the country can access a decent signal, is unacceptable” and that the govern-ment was right to focus on planning reform as a means to removing current barriers, “but there must also be a balance between the in-terests of landowners and mobile operators”.

The government has also asked for views on what measures industry could offer to mit-igate the impact of any new infrastructure, in-cluding assurances of a greater use of existing sites and the removal of redundant masts.