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Welsh Government to launch 'action plan' for improving mobile coverage

Wednesday, January 25th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The Welsh Government is looking at reforming its planning laws to make it easier for mobile operators to build new masts.

Public assets will also be opened up to help providers improve Wales’ mobile infrastructure.

The changes will form part of the Welsh Government’s new action plan for improving mobile coverage.

Skills and science minister Julie James made the announcement after meeting with mobile industry bosses, Ofcom, local planning officers and Welsh Government officials last week.

She said the round table meeting, which looked at ways in which the organisations can work together to improve phone services, was “very constructive”.

“Ensuring Wales has the mobile connectivity to allow people and ‘things’ to connect reliably wherever they are located will become essential,” she said.

“On planning reform, the mobile operators and infrastructure providers agreed to provide evidence to inform ongoing work to assess the merits of changing the existing planning regime, in particular around Permitted Development Rights, to ensure that any changes considered would be tailored to the Welsh landscape and population patterns.

“The use of public assets for mobile infrastructure was discussed, in particular how to make it easier for mobile infrastructure providers to contact and work with public sector land owners.

“I have asked officials to work with site owners and industry to help make it simpler for public assets to be accessed for mobile infrastructure.”

Ms James said more work is needed to determine the impact of reducing non-domestic rates for new mobile sites.

“The discussion also explored changes to regulation by Ofcom, support for innovation in mobile infrastructure to reach very rural areas and the importance of connectivity along transport routes.

“It is essential that we work with the mobile industry, Ofcom and other arms of government to ensure that Wales gets the mobile coverage it needs.”

'Plagued by not-spots'

Vodafone UK's head of networks, Petek Ergul, previously told Cable.co.uk that archaic planning laws were hindering efforts by operators to improve mobile networks.

The Digital Economy Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, includes a reformed Electronic Communications Code, which should make it easier and cheaper for providers to build infrastructure.

A report by the National Infrastructure Commission published in December ranked the UK as 54th in the world for 4G coverage and said the future rollout of mobile services, such as 5G, had to be better.

NIC chairman Lord Adonis said: “Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible.

“That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce.

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