The British government pledged to get 15 million sites connected to 5G by 2025, but the project is already facing major setbacks.
Disputes between landlords, local authorities, and mobile network operators (MNOs) over access to street furniture— specifically lampposts— for transmitter installation are currently stalling the 5G rollout. While MNOs have complained about lack of access to street furniture and tall structures in the past, they have become more vocal in the wake of 5G.
Created in 2017, the new electronics communications code (ECC) intended to make rolling out 5G infrastructure easier and less expensive. However, the code backfired. Its ambiguous wording and lack of accompanying guidance has encouraged many MNOs to pursue legal action against anyone who tries to limit access to lampposts.
Furthermore, the tribunal system designed to settle these disputes has become overwhelmed with cases. There are currently no dates available for settlement until 2020, which could cause delay the 5G rollout up to two years.
According to Alicia Foo, a property lawyer and partner at Pinsent Masons in the UK, the cases backlogging the court system primarily focus on how much rent councils and other landlords can charge MNOs for mounting 5G transmitters on lampposts and other structures.
“Everyone thought the new code was going to be this brave new world of faster connectivity,” says Foo. “But on the question of money, it has become very polarized between landowners and operators. I wonder whether the government was taken aback by the sheer number of operators who just want to have a go.”
Some councils claim that revenue from MNOs could help them fund the necessary infrastructure for 5G and other innovations, such as using lampposts for electronic car charging points, security cameras, and air quality sensors. However, British multinational telecommunications company BT, argues that exclusive agreements to street furniture stifle investments and slow down 5G deployment. In order to prove its commitment to open access, BT relinquished exclusivity deals it had with nine councils.
Rural Areas, From No Connectivity to 5G?
While MNOs are demanding open access in urban areas, sparsely populated communities struggle against a lack of interest. Even North Yorkshire, England’s largest council area, has been unable to secure a deal with mobile operators. Not only is the council more than willing to provide access to its network of 50,000 lampposts, it also secured a £1M grant to build three supplemental masts in remote areas.
According to Don Mackenzie, the council’s lead member for access, MNOs are ignoring incentives to provide coverage in rural areas. He wants mobile operators to give rural residents the same connectivity opportunities as residents living in more lucrative areas.
“Never mind 4G, there are areas of our county that don’t get 3G or in some cases 2G, and in some patches there’s no signal at all. It’s the rural areas where we have to step in and give the market a shake-up.”
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McCaskill, Steve. (20 May 2019). Lamp post rows could delay UK 5G rollout. TechRadar.
Weaver, Matthew. (19 May 2019). Revealed: 5G rollout is being stalled by rows over lampposts. The Guardian.
Bernal, Natasha. (24 February 2019). Rural areas at risk of being left behind in the race for 5G. The Guardian.
(20 May 2019). Lamppost rows could delay UK 5G rollout. Tech Trade.