New laws to end cell phone coverage “no bar blues”

  • New rules to connect countryside to 4G faster and accelerate 5G deployment
  • Changes to the law will reduce the need for new telephone poles and speed up signaling on roads
  • Comes with protections to preserve rural landscape and minimize impact of new infrastructure

Reforms to planned laws will mean that fewer telephone poles will be needed overall to level the country with improved 4G and 5G mobile coverage as telecommunications companies will be able to upgrade existing infrastructure while building new masts.

Mobile network operators will have more freedom to make new and existing telephone poles up to five meters higher and two meters wider than the current rules allow. This will increase the range of masts, create space for the extra equipment needed for faster networks and make it easier for operators to share infrastructure.

The government will impose strict new legal obligations on operators to minimize the visual impact of networking equipment, especially in protected areas such as national parks, nature reserves, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said:

We’ve all felt the frustration of having the “no-drinking blue” while struggling to get a phone signal, so we’re changing the law to get rid of “no-spot” cell phones and spread the output of the next generation 5G.

Telephone users across the country will benefit – whether in town, village or on the road – and stricter rules on the visual impact of new infrastructure will ensure that our favorite countryside is protected.

5G offers download speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and is poised to revolutionize our daily lives, industries and public services with the power of game-changing technologies such as virtual and augmented reality services and autonomous cars.

The move will help deliver the government-led £ 1 billion Common Rural Network is built to eliminate 4G mobile phones “out of place” in the countryside and enable communities to enjoy the revolutionary benefits of 5G technologies sooner, including specialized robots and drones driving productivity in agricultural industries.

The plans will also bring better mobile coverage to road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed closer to highways. Families and businesses will also benefit from faster deployment of 5G, making it easier for operators to use buildings to house their gear.

Hamish MacLeod, CEO of Mobile UK, said:

Building the mobile networks that provide the connectivity we all rely on is both complex and challenging. The industry welcomes the reforms to planned regulations proposed by the Government. They will enable operators to deploy mobile networks more efficiently to meet ambitious goals for rural and urban coverage, including next-generation 5G.

In its answer after extensive consultation on the plans released today, the government has confirmed that it will make amendments to the Urban and Land Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

Changes to existing permitted development rights include:

  • Existing mobile masts will be upgraded without prior approval, so they can be upgraded to 5G and shared between mobile operators. This would allow increases to the width of existing masts by either 50 percent or two meters (whichever is greater) and, in unprotected areas, would allow increases in height to a maximum of 25 meters (previously 20 meters). Larger increases will also be allowed subject to approval by the local authority;
  • New masts to be built up to five meters higher – this means a maximum of 30 meters in unprotected areas and 25 meters in protected areas, subject to the approval of the planning authority;
  • Buildings to accommodate smaller masts (up to six meters in height above a building) in unprotected areas without prior approval to accelerate network upgrades and reduce the need to build new masts;
  • Building-based masts to be erected closer to public roads subject to prior approval to improve road coverage for road users;
  • Cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts without prior approval and to allow greater flexibility to install cabinets in existing composites (fenced sites containing masts and other communication equipment) to support new 5G networks;
  • Conditions for securing telecommunications equipment do not block sidewalks and access to property.

Mobile operators will still have to get an agreement from the landowner before building any new infrastructure. All new ground-based masts will also have to be approved by local authorities, who will continue to have a say in where they are placed and their appearance.

Robust conditions and boundaries will also remain in place to ensure that communities and stakeholders are properly consulted and the environment is protected. New Code of Practice for Wireless Network Development in England was released today to provide operators and councils with guidance to ensure that the impact of mobile infrastructure is minimized and that appropriate engagement takes place with local communities.

Housing Minister Stuart Andrew said:

Ensuring that as many people as possible, wherever they live in the country, have access to fast, reliable mobile phone coverage and digital connectivity is crucial for our leveling vision.

These changes to planning rules will help providers give more people access to improved 4G and cutting-edge 5G coverage while protecting our favorite natural landscape.


Notes to editors

  • The government intends to promote the changes through secondary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
  • In addition to the changes to permitted development rights, the government will change the definition of small cellular systems to ensure that it embraces new and emerging types of wireless technology.
  • Operators will also have to inform the relevant authorities when building new infrastructure close to airports and defense activities.
  • A planning permission requires a planning application to be submitted to the relevant local planning authority for consideration. Permitted development rights grant planning permission, without the need for a planning application, for specific types of development. Some licensed development rights are subject to a requirement to seek the prior approval of the local planning authority for the location and appearance of infrastructure prior to arranging development. Where prior approval is not required, the developer must notify the local planning authority of its intention to deploy.
  • Planning is a delivery policy area. As such, the reforms will apply only in England.

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