Bigger and taller masts lined up to boost rural mobile coverage

Bigger and taller phone masts could be built across the British countryside in a government bid to widen mobile data coverage and increase speeds.

Current planning restrictions dictate that structures exceeding 25 metres in height cannot be built on public land, but Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan is keen for firms investing in 5G to be able bypass such restrictions.

An estimated 400,000 super masts may spring up in rural areas as part of the plans, which Ms Morgan said could add between £6bn and £13bn to the UK economy.

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Image: Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan wants to improve mobile network coverage in the countryside

Ms Morgan told Sky News: “This is really important for people running businesses, for tourism, for agriculture.

“But it is about finding that balance between better connectivity, helping people to improve their productivity, and also protecting areas of natural beauty and the countryside.

She added: “At the moment we often walk past masts and do not even realise – they are disguised as lampposts, they might be in bus shelters, fixed to the side of buildings.

“It might not just be taller masts, it might be wider masts, having masts based on buildings nearer roads, and it may well mean taking away some masts that are no longer needed and stopping that proliferation.”

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Image: Vodafone is among the UK networks investing in 5G

Ms Morgan was speaking as the government launched a competition for rural areas to host tests of groundbreaking 5G applications as part of plans to spark a wider roll-out of the technology.

The digital secretary said Britain “can be a world leader” in 5G, which is already being offered in a limited number of major UK cities by networks like EE and Three.

Sky Mobile is among those also set to offer the super-fast connection speeds before the end of the year.

Ms Morgan said: “We know we have got to improve 4G as well and we know there are still parts of the country where mobile connectivity is not good enough, and so we are working with mobile companies about that too.

“Connectivity is so important – if we get this right we could add between £6bn and £13bn to the size of our economy and to our productivity by 2025.”

US diplomat’s fears over UK using Huawei

Ms Morgan refused to be drawn on the potential involvement of Chinese tech giant Huawei in the development of 5G in the UK, with its founder and chief executive having recently told Sky News the government “won’t say no to us” when it comes to including the firm in its critical infrastructure.

The US has warned its allies against using Huawei because of security concerns.

Ms Morgan said: “We are very clear that we will not put our national security at risk in terms of who is operating in the supply chain for telecoms. We will take a decision as a government with national security uppermost in mind.”

The 5G plans are in addition to a commitment by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure very UK home gets access to full fibre broadband during his time in Downing Street.

Mr Johnson repeatedly spoke of his desire to upgrade internet speeds across the country during the Conservative leadership election and reiterated the pledge in his first speech as prime minister last month.

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