Could access to BT’s 4G and 5G service be coming to a lamppost near you?

Concessions agreements between mobile carriers and local authorities are used to locate small cells.(Getty Images)

BT, formerly British Telecom, wants greater access to deploy 4G and 5G outdoor wireless services in urban centers across the U.K. It proposes ending exclusive concessions agreements between individual mobile carriers and local authorities that own the closed-circuit television columns and lampposts that are used to locate mobile network equipment such as small cells.

Under the concessions model, a mobile carrier has exclusive access to street infrastructure owned by local authorities. If another carrier wants to use the same structure, it pays a fee to the provider whose agreement is already in place.

Paul Ceely, director of network strategy with the BT Group, said in a statement: “While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed, and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments.”


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BT benefits from such arrangements, but it’s offering to end its agreements in the hope that other localities and carriers will follow suit and adopt a model in which all operators have equal access for one flat fee. BT said this would provide greater incentive for mobile carriers to improve coverage.

Similar proposals have faced pushback elsewhere. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order limiting local authorities’ ability to regulate the deployment of 5G small cell equipment. Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon, spoke against it. "The federal government has made something of a land grab against local infrastructure, like telephone poles, where these wireless nodes will be connected," he said.

RELATED: Operators face local opposition to 5G small cell deployments

Meanwhile, Baton Rouge’s Business Report said that AT&T had found a loophole in a similar 2017 ordinance and began drilling into sidewalks to install their own structures.

Nevertheless, many authorities in the U.K. support BT’s proposal, including Henry Kippin, Director of Public Service Reform at the West Midlands Combined Authority.

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