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Vodafone: Mobile networks held up by planning laws and lack of fibre

Thursday, April 30th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Out-of-date planning laws and the lack of a BT fibre network in rural areas is holding up the building of mobile networks, according to a Vodafone boss.

Writing in a blog post on the company’s website, Vodafone networks manager John McCracken said building mobile networks takes longer in the UK that it should.

Mr McCracken’s comments came in a post about the difference that a new mobile mast is making on the Scottish island of Coll, bringing 2G, 3G and 4G to islanders for the first time.

Describing how the mast uses Vodafone’s extensive microwave network on the Scottish mainland rather than fibre to bounce signal to the island, Mr McCracken explained why it had taken a while to finish the project.

“We started off in earnest around about January last year so it’s taken us a year to get to where we are now,” he said.

“But like all infrastructure building mobile networks takes longer in the UK than is (sic) should often due to out-of-date planning and property laws and the lack of a BT fibre network in rural areas which we need to use to connect the mast to the rest of our network.”

Rural campaigners have frequently complained about a lack of fibre network in hard-to-reach areas, but it is not often linked to difficulties in building mobile networks.

Mr McCracken’s comments about planning legislation echo those of Andrew Miller, chair of the commons science and technology committee.

Mr Miller told Cable.co.uk there needed to be more “clarity of thinking” between mobile operators and planning officials up and down the country to help eliminate the problem of mobile not-spots.

'Common sense'

He said: “I would like to see a bit more clarity of thinking between the mobile operators and the planning officials up and down the country.

“I would encourage an element of knocking of heads together on both parts.

“Some of the mobile operators aren’t as keen as they ought to be in areas like mast sharing when they can help people.

“Some planning authorities and some landowners have not been very helpful in terms of meeting what is becoming a day-to-day societal requirement.”

More “common sense” should be applied to the situation, he said, adding: “If a landowner makes it awkward for a mast operator to, for example get access for repair and maintenance, or seeks to do unreasonable things financially, we’ve got to get rid of that.

“There’s got to be a lot more common sense applied.”

Asked about the comments about BT’s fibre network, a spokesperson said: “BT is investing £126m in the £410m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout with the public sector, to extend fibre broadband into areas not covered by any commercial rollout.

"Coupled with commercial investments, it means that around 95% of Scottish premises will have access to fibre broadband by the end of March 2018.

"One major part of the jigsaw was the completion last year of an ambitious subsea project to lay 400km of cabling across 20 links, which will connect many of Scotland’s islands to the fibre broadband network.”

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