The rollout of 4G-based mobile broadband in England could be accelerated if proposals put forward by the UK government in a new consultation document are enforced.
The Mobile Connectivity in England (PDF) technical consultation — released last Friday and drawn up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Communities and Local Government — is designed to relax the rules on building new 4G masts and antennae in public places, while retaining important environmental safeguards.
"We know that broadband is a key plank of business infrastructure and essential to creating jobs," Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and the creative industries, said in a statement last Friday.
"Demand for mobile broadband in particular is increasing at a phenomenal rate. We need to ensure that businesses and individuals can access this as soon as possible, if its full potential as driver for growth is to be realised."
The 11 proposals were drawn up after discussions between Whitehall, the Mobile Operators Association (MOA), local government association and the planning officers society.
The suggestions in the consultation included relaxing the rules on installing masts and antennae onto existing buildings. For example, the government is considering whether it would be better to let 4G infrastructure developers add additional equipment without prior approval. It is also looking raising the height limits of antennae from 4m to 6m and the raising the height limit of masts from 15m to 20m.
The government also wants to see mobile operators sharing 4G masts where possible and using microcells — low-power network base stations — to boost network capacity.
"These proposed technical changes allow the new technology needed for improving mobile coverage and speeds for local residents to be installed in a way that ensures better use is made of existing infrastructure," Nick Boles, the minister for planning at the Department for Communities, said in a statement last Friday.
The consultation process is scheduled to end on 14 June.
However, little more than 300,000 people in the UK have signed up for 4G services from EE, which is currently the only operator that can offer 4G LTE nationally. The company aims to sign up more than one million customers before the end of the year and several other mobile operators are planning to launch 4G services following the conclusion of the 4G spectrum auction, which ended in February.