BT calls for open, equivalent access to street furniture to boost 4G and 5G coverage

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BT is calling for an end to exclusive concessions agreements governing access to council-owned street furniture, in a bid to speed up the delivery of 4G and 5G services and boost mobile coverage in city centres. 

Many local authorities currently operate a concessions model which grants a single mobile operator or infrastructure provider exclusive access to council-owned street furniture such as lamp posts and CCTV columns to locate mobile network equipment. These mini mobile masts or ‘small cells’ are essential for bringing enhanced mobile coverage and capacity to residents and businesses in urban centres. Over time, they are expected to play a role in accelerating the widespread deployment of 5G services. 

Under the concessions model, other mobile operators who wish to access the same physical infrastructure to locate their small cells equipment need to pay a wholesale charge to the provider that has an exclusive agreement in place with the local authority. This can drive up costs for operators and stymie investment, while BT believes that changes to the Electronic Communications Code – which came into force in December 2017 – make such exclusivity agreements void. 

In response, BT, which currently operates street furniture concessions across nine local authorities (Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Plymouth, Carlisle, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Gloucester and Leicester) is proposing to end its exclusive agreements to encourage other local authorities and the wider industry to adopt an alternative ‘open access’ model. Such an approach would allow all mobile operators to access street furniture on an open, equivalent basis, by paying a low-cost flat fee to the local authority. 

BT believes that removing the current barriers to using street furniture will encourage mobile operators to invest in improving mobile coverage, capacity and speeds in towns and cities across the UK. This will bring greater and more reliable connectivity, increased competition and lower prices to local residents and businesses, and could potentially speed up the delivery of 5G services in these areas by encouraging greater deployment of small cells technology. 

Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy, BT Group, said: “While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010’s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments. Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act. We are leading the way by handing back exclusivity in nine key areas. 

BT’s mobile arm, EE, has already revealed the first 16 cities to benefit from the launch of 5G services later this year. London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester will be the first flagship cities for 5G deployment this year, with parts of Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol also set to benefit. 

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