Northern Ireland

5G Northern Ireland: Call for planning reform to speed up installation

mobile network Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 5G is the latest development of wireless technology which is faster and more responsive

Planning regulations need to be reformed to speed up the rollout of 5G technology in Northern Ireland, Mobile UK has said.

The trade body which represents the four biggest mobile providers - EE, O2, Three and Vodafone - has met with Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.

To facilitate 5G, the communications infrastructure will need to be updated.

Those working in the industry say they do not want to see Northern Ireland left behind.

Gareth Elliott from Mobile UK said: "Northern Ireland is much more restrictive than the rest of the UK.

"We are looking to align it with the UK for 5G and 4G upgrades.

"Mobile is now very much part of everyday's fabric and to have the signal that people request and demand, we need to build that infrastructure rapidly and cost effectively."

'Potential to slow things down'

5G is the latest development of wireless technology which is faster, more responsive and has a greater capacity for multiple devices.

An update to communications infrastructure in Northern Ireland would mean building new masts and making some existing masts bigger - which would require planning permission.

Jonathan Rose, from communications regulator Ofcom, said Northern Ireland's planning system "is tougher than other parts of the UK for mobile phone masts."

"It certainly has the potential to slow things down," he said.

"We've seen historically how tougher planning regulations have caused a delay in rolling out mobile networks."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Those working in the industry say they do not want to see Northern Ireland left behind

Professor Simon Cotton, Director of the Centre for Wireless Innovation at Queen's University Belfast, said it was important that Northern Ireland moved with the times.

"When people think of infrastructure, they often think of roads and bridges, but actually one of our key pieces of infrastructure is our telecommunications network, of which 5G is an important part.

"If we fail to embrace 5G and its adoption then Northern Ireland will be left behind in the digital race and ultimately will find it very difficult to compete globally in the future," he added.

Some groups have raised concerns in relation to health risks posed by 5G.

Public Health England advises the UK government on health effects caused by electromagnetic field emissions.

It says "the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health."

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