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UK government looks to digitise 5G cell site acquisition

Mobile operators need access to street furniture to roll out 5G networks and the UK government is parting with a small amount of cash to make life easier for them.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on Thursday shared details of a £4 million project designed to increase usage of lamp posts, traffic signals, CCTV poles and the like for mobile equipment. It is inviting local and regional authorities to apply for a share of the funding to test the digitisation of certain elements of the site acquisition process.

The authorities will carry out pilot projects to evaluate the use of digital asset management platforms in 5G rollout. The pilots should demonstrate whether the use of such platforms enables the industry to gain easier and more efficient access to public sector assets, and, at a broader level, whether it encourages the deployment of infrastructure in a particular area.

The authorities will work with digital asset management platform providers and mobile infrastructure providers on their projects.

“The lampposts lining our streets have huge potential to accelerate the roll out of 5G and reduce the need to build new masts, but right now getting access to this infrastructure can be tricky,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman, in a statement.

That has been the case since the dawn of mobile technology; operators have long bemoaned the time and effort they spend to secure access to sites for their equipment. Denser 5G networks just make an age-old problem even more acute…to the point that the state is stepping in.

As you would expect from a government initiative, the announcement is peppered with comments about the potential of 5G, from faster connection speeds to a proliferation of connected devices, virtual and augmented reality services, autonomous driving and the like. These are all undeniably part of the future of 5G – we’ve been hearing about them for years – but it’s something of a stretch to suggest that bunging a few cell sites on lamp posts will be key to making it all happen.

That said, telcos do need locations for their kit and anything that smooths the site acquisition process has to be a good thing.

There will always be resistance to adding cell sites in towns and cities, be it from those generally concerned about a greater proliferation of mobile sites, or those keen to ensure that we’re not turning historic buildings, or just aesthetically-pleasing street scenes, into monstrous carbuncles. Some of those arguments are valid, but must be balanced against the removal of much of the red tape that still troubles the telcos.

“Street furniture and buildings can be used to host 5G network equipment more cheaply, quickly and with less visual impact compared with traditional phone masts,” DCMS points out. “However, network operators often find it difficult to acquire the information needed to verify that a structure is suitable, such as its location, physical dimensions, proximity to the street or access to a power source.”

These are all issues that could and indeed should be easily overcome.

Local authorities interested in securing a slice of the £4 million have until 18 November to team up with the platform and equipment providers  and lodge their applications. The government says it will name the winners in December, with pilots due to get underway in January 2022 and, in most cases, run for a year.

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