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Mobile News XPO: Networks urge relaxation of planning laws to account for taller and bigger 5G masts

Manny Pham
March 26, 2019

Average UK mast height is 15m, compared to 25m in Europe

Operators have again called for a relaxation of planning laws to enable the building of taller telecommunications masts that they say would significantly improve mobile coverage and download speeds.

Mobile operators have urged the government since 2017 to revamp planning laws, following criticism that the UK’s current mobile infrastructure cannot sufficiently support the rollout of 5G from 2020.

At the 5G Symposium at the Mobile News XPO, BT Group chief technology and information officer Howard Watson highlighted how 5G masts are physically bigger than previous equipment and require more space, using more land and driving up land rental.

“5G antennas are heavier than their 4G counterparts. We often go to strengthen towers and we’ve got to move fences because of regulation requirements,” he said.

“We still have landlords who want an extra pound of flesh and that is not a sustainable model to get to the great digital country you want to be in.” Watson added: “As an industry, we could do a much better job articulating basic physics of the technology that we use and the understanding of it. We also need to discuss the importance of mast height, the benefits it has and the benefits it would create.”

Tall masts
O2 CTO Brendan O’Reilly added: “We’re trying to build a digital economy with analogue planning laws.”

He cited China as an example, claiming the country has 50-metre tall masts that bring benefits such as consistent signal and high download speeds.

The average height of masts in the UK is around 15 metres, compared with a European average of 25 metres. Operators and the government have faced criticism in the past over national coverage, particularly in rural areas and on train services.

Vodafone chief technical officer Scott Petty said: “What would help us most is mast type. In Europe, the masts are almost double the size. Every 10 metres, you’re guaranteed coverage. “Let us operators build taller masts, it really is simple planning elements that can make a fundamental difference to how we build mobile networks and the quality of those networks.”

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