'Speed up Britain' campaign swings into action

Heavyweight industry group, chaired by a former UK government minister, wants to cut red tape surrounding site acquisition and on-site upgrades.

Ken Wieland, contributing editor

July 22, 2020

2 Min Read
'Speed up Britain' campaign swings into action

UK mobile network operators (MNOs), in collaboration with tower players, have embarked on a "Speed up Britain" campaign.

Their big gripe is that network buildout is not moving fast enough. And the main reason for the delay, they claim, is that the Electronic Communications Code is not fit for purpose. They are calling for "urgent reform."

"Current plans for mobile infrastructure rollout are being slowed down significantly by avoidable legal obstacles," read the official statement.

The campaign has got some heavyweight backing. It is chaired by Ed Vaizey, formerly the UK minister for digital, culture, media and sport, and has the support of Mobile UK, a trade association of the UK's four MNOs: EE, Telefónica UK (O2), Three and Vodafone.

Site-operator joint ventures Cornerstone (Vodafone and Telefónica) and MBNL (EE and Three) are also throwing their weight behind "Speed up Britain."

So too is Cellnex, Europe's biggest listed tower business, although it has a relatively small presence in the UK with around 600 sites under its operational control. Cornerstone and MBNL look after around 20,000 sites each.

To highlight what it sees as growing urgency to roll out 5G, the campaign revealed the results of its own commissioned survey. Nearly 60% of small businesses canvassed reckon 5G will be "positively transformative" for them. Around two-thirds consider mobile Internet "important" for their work.

COVID-19 was wheeled in as another reason why the UK government should take a long hard look at the Code's effectiveness. The survey indicated that 60% of the UK population rely on mobile Internet for one hour or more a day, and that the "pandemic has shown that more people need mobile coverage so they can share the economic benefits of new technology."

More than 60% of young workers apparently rely more on mobile Internet for work than before COVID-19.

The campaign thinks a more ship-shape code will streamline processes for rolling out new sites and reduce red tape when it comes to on-site tech upgrades. Drawing on the support of landowners is another aspiration of "Speed up Britain."

"When the Code was introduced back in 2017, it was supposed to make the process of building and upgrading mobile infrastructure easier, not harder," complained Vazey. "And yet, three years later, progress has been glacial.

"Industry does continue to work closely with the landowners who host mobile masts," he said, "but progress in the rollout of this critical national infrastructure is being hampered and delayed by legal inconsistencies and lengthy legal proceedings."

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Ken Wieland

contributing editor

Ken Wieland has been a telecoms journalist and editor for more than 15 years. That includes an eight-year stint as editor of Telecommunications magazine (international edition), three years as editor of Asian Communications, and nearly two years at Informa Telecoms & Media, specialising in mobile broadband. As a freelance telecoms writer Ken has written various industry reports for The Economist Group.

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