UK MNOs give cautious thumbs up to government plans to ease infrastructure restrictions

Telefónica UK, Three UK and EE gave a cautious welcome to UK government plans, announced this week, to offer greater freedom and flexibility in the deployment of mobile infrastructure.

In a budget announcement, the government revealed that it intends to implement measures including a reduction in planning restrictions covering existing mobile infrastructure, and allowing operators to build taller ground masts when deploying new equipment. The proposals appear to only cover England at this stage.

Derek McManus, COO at Telefónica UK, told FierceWireless:Europe that the company welcomed the government's plans, noting that the move would help operators to "improve mobile coverage and capacity".

Mobile infrastructure is now "every bit as important to our lives and economy as our roads, rail or our energy networks," McManus said, adding that it is "crucial the UK's digital infrastructure matches the growing demand for mobile data and services from consumers and businesses alike, now and in the future as we roll out 5G."

A Three UK spokesperson said the company welcomed the government's plan to enable operators to "extend mobile coverage to harder to reach places in England," in a statement e-mailed to FW:E.

However, the spokesperson said the government needs to do more to help operators to improve coverage, noting that the proposals released this week also include plans to consult on updating the "outdated Electronic Communications Code, which governs our relationship with landowners". The Three UK spokesperson said the current code "stands in the way of coverage improvements".

EE was similarly positive on the government's "proposal to provide greater freedom and flexibility on mobile infrastructure," a spokesperson told FW:E. The spokesperson added that EE "look[s] forward to a package of measures, including planning reform and reform of the Electronics Communications Code that reflects the growing demand for, and reliance on, good mobile coverage across all parts of the country."

However, the mobile operators' enthusiasm for the government proposals was not shared by all.

Scott Willis, CEO of wideband active distributed antenna system (DAS) technology provider Zinwave, said that the reforms are unnecessary and that the government "should be offering an incentive for operators to make better use of their existing network infrastructure," in an e-mailed statement.

Willis questioned why small cell architecture was not mentioned in the government's plans given that such infrastructure is "small, unobtrusive and easy to deploy" compared to mobile masts. "The demand for mobile signal will continue to increase and there are only so many masts that can be erected to meet these needs," he added.

For more:
- read the UK Government's budget policy decisions

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