BT Calls For Open Access To Street Furniture For Better Coverage

BT has called on local councils across the country to open up access to their street furniture (lamp posts, CCTV columns etc), in an effort to improve 4G and 5G coverage.

At the moment, most councils operate a concession model which grants a single firm exclusive access to council-owned street furniture, so they can install their own mini mobile masts (i.e small cells).

But BT is arguing that a new approach is needed in order to encourage further investment in 4G and 5G mobile services in the UK.

Open access

And BT showcased its commitment to this ‘open access’ cause, by handing back its own exclusive street furniture contracts with nine UK cities.

And the former UK telecoms incumbent is also holding a workshop next month with local authorities and UK mobile operators in Birmingham to discuss the need for an alternative ‘Open Access Model’ to street furniture.

Mini mobile masts or ‘small cells’ are considered essential to help grow mobile connectivity for both residents and businesses in urban centres.

BT pointed out that under the current concession 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.

Needless to say, this wholesale cost can drive up the installation costs for rival operators and can restrict investment.

BT said at the moment, it currently operates street furniture concessions across nine local authorities (Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Plymouth, Carlisle, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Gloucester and Leicester).

However it is proposing to end its exclusive agreements to encourage other local authorities and the wider industry to adopt an alternative ‘open access’ model. It instead wants all mobile operators to access street furniture by paying a low-cost flat fee to the local authority.

“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,” explained Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy at BT Group.

“Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act,” Ceely added. “We are leading the way by handing back exclusivity in nine key areas.”

“The UK needs an alternative approach which sees industry and local authorities working together to share these street sites in an open and collaborative way,” Ceely said. “This will create the right environment for long-term investment and innovation in future mobile networks. We believe Open Access will be critical in ensuring the UK has the best mobile infrastructure in place to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.”

BT’s mobile division is already planning to install 5G services in 16 cities, such as London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester. Other cities such as parts of Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol are also set to benefit from 5G connectivity going forward.

BT experience

BT of course already has some experience in providing open access to infrastructure, thanks to rules governing the installation of fibre networks, which historically has been expensive due to the price of digging up the ground to install ducting (to carry the cables) or the cost of installing telegraph poles.

Ever since 2010, Ofcom has required BT to open up its own ducting so that rival ISPs could install their own fibre connections.

However some rivals have previously argued that BT’s charges for access to its ducts were too high.

This led the regulator to consider changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network, to make it easier for competitors to access BT’s infrastructure.

Quiz: What do you know about BT, the UK’s biggest mobile and broadband provider?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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