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BT calls for open access to street furniture

The company wants an end to exclusive concessions agreements on council-owned furniture to speed up delivery of 4G and 5G services and boost city centre mobile coverage.

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Street furniture such as lamp posts can provide a vehicle for boosting mobile coverage
Street furniture such as lamp posts can provide a vehicle for boosting mobile coverage

Multinational telecoms provider BT is calling for an end to exclusive concessions agreements governing access to council-owned street furniture, in a bid to speed up delivery of 4G and 5G services and boost mobile coverage in city centres.

 

The company is proposing an alternative ‘open access’ model which gives back street furniture to local authorities and, to underscore its commitment, would hand back its own exclusive street furniture contracts with nine UK cities.

 

Importance of small cells

 

Many local authorities currently operate a concessions model which grants a single mobile operator or infrastructure provider exclusive access to council-owned street furniture such as lamp posts and CCTV columns to locate mobile network equipment.

 

These mini mobile masts or ‘small cells’ are essential for bringing enhanced mobile coverage and capacity to residents and businesses in urban centres. Over time, they are expected to play a role in accelerating the widespread deployment of 5G services.

 

Under the concessions model, other mobile operators wishing 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.

 

This can drive up costs for operators and stymie investment, while BT reckons that changes to the Electronic Communications Code – which came into force in December 2017 – make such exclusivity agreements void.

“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”

“While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010s 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,” said Paul Ceely, director of network strategy, BT Group

 

“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. This will create the right environment for long-term investment and innovation in future mobile networks.”

 

In response, BT, which currently operates street furniture concessions across nine local authorities (Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Plymouth, Carlisle, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Gloucester and Leicester) is proposing to end its exclusive agreements to encourage other local authorities and the wider industry to adopt an alternative open access model.

 

Such an approach would allow all mobile operators to access street furniture on an open, equivalent basis, by paying a low-cost flat fee to the local authority, it said.

 

The initiative has been welcomed by Henry Kippin, director of public service reform at West Midland Combined Authority (WMCA), which will be responsible for delivering the 5G test bed programme: “One of the reasons why the West Midlands was chosen as the location for the UK’s first region-wide 5G test bed was our commitment as a region to do what it takes to work with operators to get the 5G networks we need built in the fastest, fairest and most cost effective way,” he added.

 

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