Local authorities have been urged to audit their assets as potential infrastructure and use ‘connectivity considerations’ in local planning to encourage the development of 5G networks.
The call has come from trade association for network operators Mobile UK in a report, Councils and Connectivity, that says authorities are not yet doing enough to support the roll out of a crucial element of national digital infrastructure.
The report comes with two main recommendations. One is for councils to place a greater emphasis on the importance of mobile connectivity to their local economies. They can pursue this through the audit of assets for siting network nodes, along with learning lessons from the roll out of broadband and exploring different models of collaboration with the private sector.
The other is to publish a clear statement of approach to building a mobile infrastructure. This would come with ensuring that any plans for new developments such as housing estates and road upgrades would include considerations of the potential for mobile connectivity.
It would also involve embedding mobile connectivity in plans for local economies and the appointment of digital champions – possibly in a council cabinet post – to provide a single point of contact and align competing interests.
The report has drawn on information from 70 councils on how they are approaching the issue of mobile connectivity. The exercise found that more than half did not have a councillor with specific responsibility for digital issues, and most had not audited the suitability of their land, buildings and other assets to host digital infrastructure.
Other findings were that fewer than a third had local plans with a detailed reference to mobile connectivity, and three quarters had not applied for any funding to improve their infrastructure.
Gareth Elliot, head of policy and communications for Mobile UK, said: “Mobile connectivity has transformed our daily lives, and 5G is expected to take us even further, but we must ensure that at all levels of government we are equally prepared.
“Councils have a vital role, yet while many are working towards a connected future, our research has found that there is still a lag in fully prioritising mobile connectivity.
“With launch plans announced for 5G now is the time to take the opportunity to work with industry to break down barriers and champion mobile connectivity, to ensure the next generation of mobile infrastructure can be deployed quickly and effectively.”
Image by Christoph Scholz, CC BY 2.0