The UK government has announced a £4m competition to explore ways to make it simpler and quicker for mobile companies to use publicly owned buildings and kerbside infrastructure – such as CCTV poles and traffic signals – to host 5G radio equipment.
The scheme aims to allow mobile network operators to gain easier access to lampposts, bus shelters and other street furniture to speed up the roll-out of next-generation, ultra-fast 5G technology. The government regards street furniture and buildings as viable means to host 5G network equipment more cheaply, quickly and with less visual impact compared with traditional phone masts.
However, it noted that network operators often find it difficult to acquire the information to verify that a structure is suitable, such as its location, physical dimensions, proximity to the street or access to a power source.
To address these concerns, the government said it would invest in piloting the latest innovations in digital asset management platforms. This would enable local councils to share more easily the data that mobile companies need to accelerate their roll-out plans and deliver the “revolutionary” benefits of 5G to people and businesses.
“The lampposts lining our streets have huge potential to accelerate the roll-out of 5G and reduce the need to build new masts, but right now, getting access to this infrastructure can be tricky,” said UK digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman. “That is why we are investing millions to help local councils and mobile companies work together more effectively to bring people the incredible benefits of faster connectivity as we level up the UK.”
Hamish MacLeod, director at Mobile UK, the trade association for mobile network operators, added: “Mobile networks are critical to the UK’s economic recovery, yet deploying infrastructure on public assets has often proved difficult. We welcome this competition aimed at breaking down these barriers and accelerating investment in 5G by piloting new digital platforms that bring together public bodies and mobile operators to make public-owned infrastructure more easily accessible.
“We are committed to working closely with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and local authorities on this project.”
The government said local and regional authorities are encouraged to form partnerships with industry to submit joint proposals for pilot project funds to test the use of digital asset management platforms in different locations across the UK. On completion of the project, the government aims to support local authorities on the nationwide adoption of digital asset management platforms. The deadline for applications to the competition is 18 November 2021.
The announcement is the latest in a series of measures in the government’s Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator project that is designed to remove barriers holding back the roll-out of state-of-the-art digital connectivity, such as the plan to trial running fibre broadband cables through drinking water pipes.
The government is also considering giving broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts to boost the roll-out of full-fibre broadband.