Planning changes to boost mobile broadband in England

Turtle sign
Image caption UK mobile web speeds could slow without changes to planning laws

Mobile firms could find it easier to put up masts and antennas under suggested changes to planning rules.

The changes would let operators fix more antennas to walls and promote use of tiny "microcells" that help boost network capacity.

Operators would also be encouraged to share masts to limit the need for new base station sites.

The government has proposed the changes in England to help accelerate the roll-out of high-speed mobile networks.

Government figures suggest that the demand for the use of the mobile web is due to increase 80 fold in the next 17 years. However, said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), regulations governing how quickly operators can deploy masts threatened to slow efforts to add capacity.

The government has proposed a series of measures that, it claims, would let operators expand networks quickly but avoid the need to install new masts as much as possible.

"Demand for mobile broadband in particular is increasing at a phenomenal rate," said communications minister Ed Vaizey in a statement announcing the consultation. "We need to ensure that businesses and individuals can access this as soon as possible, if its full potential as a driver for growth is to be realised."

Under the proposed changes to planning permissions in England, operators would be able put masts further back from the edge of a building to make them less visible from the ground, and it would be more straightforward to mount antennas on walls to avoid the need for new mast sites. The proposals also keep in place safeguards that stop masts being put up in protected areas, said the government.

The consultation, which is being run in conjunction with the Department for Communities, begins on 3 May and runs until 14 June. The DCMS said anyone with comments could email them to the department.

In February, the UK government concluded an auction for spectrum that can support fourth-generation mobile services. So far, only Everything Everywhere has launched 4G services but other operators are expected to launch rival services in late 2013.

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