Britain has unveiled new laws to end mobile coverage “not spots” as it accelerates the country’s 5G rollout amid efforts to improve connectivity for people who live, work and travel in rural areas.

The changes will reduce the need for new phone masts and boost signal on roads across the nation, and include protections to preserve rural scenery and minimise impact of new infrastructure.

5G offers download speeds up to 100 times that of 4G, benefiting both consumers and industries.

Housing minister Stuart Andrew said: “Wider access to a fast, reliable mobile coverage and digital connectivity is crucial to our levelling up vision.

“Changes to planning rules will help providers to give more people access to improved 4G and 5G coverage, while also protecting our cherished natural landscape.”

As the government moves to better connect the nation, what does this mean for consumers?

 

5G

What are ‘not spot’ zones and what do the new rules target

Not spots are mobile signal blind spots in rural areas in the UK.

Mobile network firms will get more freedom to make new and existing phone masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit, under the new changes. This will make it easier for operators to share infrastructure, boost the range of masts and create room for the extra equipment needed for faster networks.

The changes include an increase in the maximum width and height of existing structures in areas without protection orders in place.

This means that any new infrastructure will still need agreements from landowners, while ground-based kit will need to be approved by local authorities.

In a statement, the department of digital, media, culture and sport called the plan “barrier-busting”.

It added the shift would place “tough new legal duties on operators to minimise the visual impact of network equipment, particularly in protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty”.

Ending rural not spots and bringing everyone, not just those who live in urban centres, into the fold of next generation digital connectivity is an important aspiration for the UK government.

The ability of operators to build masts taller and add to existing infrastructure and street furniture with ease will ensure the promise of widespread 5G can be met in even quicker time.

Consumers are set to benefit from the move as it will bring more connectivity to a population increasingly reliant on strong digital connectivity for many aspects of their lives. However, with the rollout so far many consumers have also pointed to 5G hype with connectivity and transition issues.

What is next for 5G rollout in the UK?

UK consumers could benefit from better network reliability as the deployment of 5G powers on.

The UK has one of the highest internet usage levels in the world. Nearly the entire nation has access to the web, with an estimated 62.86 million monthly users in 2021 alone — expected to rise to more than 65 million users per month in 2026.

In 2010 the UK merger between operators T-Mobile and Orange to create EE was the catalyst for the nationwide roll-out of 4G.

The merger forced other players to follow suit and every UK consumer felt the benefits, regardless of their network provider.

Such investment encourages all networks to innovate, both in terms of services and the kinds of new devices customers have come to expect.

Dr Paul Carter, CEO of mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), said that three of the four major operators have already doubled their nationwide 5G coverage over the past year.

EE’s 5G coverage increased approximately 120%, O2’s 260%, Three’s 150%, and Vodafone’s (VOD.L) 90%, according to GWS figures.

Carter added that 25 out of the 33 major metropolitan cities and towns that the company tested across the UK now offer 5G coverage from all four operators.

“5G deployment process has been progressing as expected but improving the ease with which new infrastructure can be built, or existing infrastructure improved, is another significant step in the right direction,” he said.