Government's rural network infrastructure plans 'ignore businesses', claims Three

The mobile operator says the expansion is overly-focused on consumers and rural communities

The UK government continues to ignore business use cases across rural and remote areas when rolling out network infrastructure, Three's head of Government Affairs, Simon Miller, has argued.

Westminster needs to re-evaluate the way testbeds and trial programmes have been deployed, as their focus to date has been on consumers living in the UK’s countryside and has failed to consider the 551,000 businesses registered in the rural areas of England - 23% of the country's registered businesses - according to Miller.

Poor connectivity in the rural parts of the country makes it difficult to conduct business in these areas, placing these organisations at a disadvantage compared to their inner-city counterparts. The UK countryside is still forced to grapple with “structural and systemic issues that make it hard and disproportionately expensive to build out networks to those communities”, according to Miller.

“That’s particularly acute to the UK" and is "less prevalent in other parts of Europe,” he said, speaking at a policy conference on Thursday.

“For historic reasons, the network architecture that we deployed in the UK is inappropriate to delivering connectivity to rural communities. So, just by way of comparison, if we compare the average mast in the UK, it’s about half the size of the average mast in France.”

Miller added that the UK is getting “much less coverage bang for our buck” than other European countries.

“It also means that it's much more difficult to share equipment, and upgrade equipment, given the constraints of that smaller mass size,” he said. Smaller masts make it physically impossible to fit more equipment, leading to fewer network operators being available in a given region. This leads to reduced competition, higher prices, and a lower incentive for companies to provide customers with a better service, according to Miller.

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Miller told IT Pro that last week’s governmental proposal, which would allow mobile operators to make new and existing masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit, is a “hugely welcome” change. He also agreed with former secretary of state for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt’s calls for “a balance between proper planning and environmental considerations”, which are a common argument against the expansion of rural network infrastructure. For that reason, masts in areas such as national parks, conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and world heritage sites have been granted a maximum height of 25 metres, as opposed to the 30 metres permitted elsewhere.

“I don't think anyone who goes on holiday to the Alps, or to other parts of continental Europe, sits there and says: ‘Oh my god, that telephone mast is ruining the landscape’ – and in those jurisdictions, masts are significantly larger,” he told IT Pro.

“I think what we want, and what these reforms give, is an ability to provide and deliver infrastructure that gets the connectivity out there, and is appropriate to that geography. It's about catching up to where we ought to be, rather than granting operators overly-generous rights.”

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