Councils have a central role in the deployment of 5G – how prepared are they?
May 2019, Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications, Mobile UK
From the requirements of new buildings to granting planning permission for new masts, councils are a critical cog in the development of the UK’s mobile connectivity. Mobile UK’s latest research paper asks how prepared councils in the UK are for a mobile future. The findings surprised us. Here I outline what we found, and what we can do to improve the situation.
Mobile connectivity is critical infrastructure
Mobile connectivity is today an essential part of daily life. Nearly 95% of UK adults own a mobile phone and where people choose to live, travel or conduct business is increasingly made on the basis of how good connectivity is in that area or location.
In the coming years, it is expected the way people interact with apps, mobile content and online services will change dramatically. Connectivity today is focused primarily on the smartphone, but the future will see more and more devices connected to one another. From the connected smart home to the connected car, or the autonomous factory to remote surgery, the way people, places and machines communicate will be vastly different. However, for this to happen, mobile operators need to be able to build and deploy their networks.
The important role for councils in the future of mobile
Councils are – and will continue to be – instrumental in delivering mobile networks. This could be through granting planning permission, ensuring future development is planned with mobile connectivity in mind or providing their public assets to host mobile equipment. How local authorities interpret planning laws and street works rules, and how they design local economic strategies has a bearing on how efficiently mobile infrastructure can be deployed. In short, councils influence the cost of mobile infrastructure and the speed with which it is built.
Councils are – and will continue to be – instrumental in delivering mobile networks.
The question that is not often asked, however, is how prepared are councils for the coming mobile revolution?
How are councils preparing for the future of mobile?
Mobile UK has commissioned research that looks into this question. We found that while many councils are already putting into place proactive policies to ensure forward planning and the necessary resources are made available, the wider story is that in most cases there are still opportunities for councils to go even further in embedding mobile connectivity.
The wider story is that in most cases there are still opportunities for councils to go even further in embedding mobile connectivity.
One example includes councils auditing their assets, such as rooftops or street furniture, to understand if they could host mobile infrastructure. Our research found 87% of councils had yet to audit their assets for suitability. Another example included appointing a senior digital champion – perhaps a councillor or senior member of staff – to spearhead initiatives across departments and with external partners. When asked whether a local authority had a councillor with specific responsibility for digital issues more than half responded that at the present time they did not.
As the UK moves towards a 5G future, public assets could perform a central role in providing suitable sites for mobile infrastructure.
As the UK moves towards a 5G future, public assets could perform a central role in providing suitable sites for mobile infrastructure. It is therefore helpful for both the mobile industry and councils to work in partnership to consider how access to public assets could be made easier and more affordable.
Mobile’s role in local economies and places
Local councils are also responsible for setting the strategy for development 20 to 30 years in advance. With mobile technology changing rapidly, it is important that these strategies take into account the requirements of mobile infrastructure.
Our research suggests current local plans often fail to even reference mobile or are focussed almost entirely on fixed broadband. In fact, only 9% of those councils queried provided a clear view within their economic strategy of how mobile connectivity was critical to future economic outcomes. As for Local Plans, only 28% made a detailed reference to mobile connectivity, despite planning being a critical factor for infrastructure deployment.
Mobile UK believes these findings represent a clear set of opportunities for local government. First, there is a knowledge gap to address. We know this having taken stock of local governments’ current understanding of mobile connectivity. Second, there are a set of proposed actions for mobile operators, local authorities and central government to explore in partnership. In fact, our report is a call to action for both the industry and local government to work together.
Mobile connectivity needs to be fully embedded now, so that both local governments, their residents and businesses can be in the best position to benefit.
Many of the new technologies that are arriving with a more connected world will be dependent on good mobile connectivity. Local government has a vital role to play in unlocking these benefits.
Find out more about Mobile UK’s Councils and Connectivity Report by clicking here.
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076