Technology

Government unveils plans to relax mast rules to end mobile signal blind spots

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said the changes could help improve existing phone signals and boost the rollout of 5G.

Proposed changes in the law which would allow telecoms firms to make phone masts taller and wider could wipe out mobile signal blind spots, the Government has said.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said proposals will also boost the rollout of 5G technology.

Under the plans, new and existing masts could be made 5m (16ft 5in) taller and 2m (6ft 7in) wider than current rules allow, enabling more equipment to be fitted to them as part of efforts to improve phone signals while reducing the need for new masts to be built in rural areas.

Huawei concerns
New and existing phone masts could be made 5m (16ft 5in) taller and 2m (6ft 7in) wider than current rules allow if the changes go ahead (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Government said stricter rules will apply in protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites, but will also include plans to allow building-based masts to be placed closer to main roads to improve signals for road users.

And while existing masts could be updated without prior approval, most new masts will still need to be approved by local authorities.

“We want to level up the country and end the plague of patchy and poor mobile signals in rural communities,” Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said.

“Today we are setting out plans to make it easier for mobile firms to transform connectivity in the countryside and propel villages and towns out of the digital dark ages – providing a welcome boost for millions of families, businesses and visitors.

“These practical changes strike a careful balance between removing unnecessary barriers holding back better coverage, while making sure we protect our precious landscape.”

Mr Dowden added in an article for the Daily Telegraph the changes would allow “maximum use” of existing masts ensuring “fewer masts in the long run”.

“We want local communities to have control over their own destinies. Our proposals give them the power to direct development in their areas as they see fit,” he wrote.

“With a few practical changes, we can transform the fate of a rural village or town – propelling them from the digital dark ages into 21st-century connectivity.”

Hamish MacLeod, director of industry body Mobile UK, said: “We welcome the proposals set out in this consultation, which will provide better certainty and flexibility to technological changes required to build world-class mobile networks.

“We urge the Government that, to assist mobile companies to meet its ambitions targets for deployment, it brings about legislative change as quickly as possible.”

The Government has previously announced the £1 billion Shared Rural Network, which will see a number of mobile operators share infrastructure in order to boost mobile signal in the countryside.

DCMS confirmed it is also launching a new consultation on a code of practice for mobile network operators, which would provide updated guidance on how to work together with local authorities on building communications infrastructure.

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