5G and 4G coverage could be improved with mobile phone masts on street lights, bus shelters and roads signs, say ministers
PHONE masts could soon be harnessed to traffic lights and road signs under plans to improve mobile phone connection.
Street lights and bus shelters are also on the list of items that could host network equipment to cut red tape and install more 4G and 5G kit in towns and villages sooner.
Telecoms firms are to be given easier access to public buildings and items described as "curbside furniture" under government proposals to speed-up the UK's roll-out of the 5G network, while also improving 4G coverage.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is exploring ways to give people faster and more reliable mobile coverage more quickly.
Street furniture such as road signs and CCTV poles can be used to improve 4G coverage by providing additional places to install smaller phone masts more quickly, but they could also be integral to the roll out of a successful 5G network, which requires a larger number of smaller ‘cell sites’ – where antennas and other telecoms equipment are dotted more regularly to form a network that ensures seamless coverage.
As part of efforts to meet the surging demand for connectivity, ministers say they are exploring ways they may be able to cut red tape and speed-up improvements to network services and phone coverage.
Fewer new larger phone masts, which often take longer to build and set up, could be required if companies can get on with making use of host structures already built into roads and pavements.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez explained: "Everyone gets frustrated when their mobile signal is poor, particularly when patchy coverage holds up important work and social calls and makes it harder to do stuff online. That is why we are determined to get the UK the connectivity it needs by rolling out better mobile coverage as quickly as possible."
To test the theory the government is launching eight pilot projects in England and Scotland that will give mobile phone companies greater access to council information that will tell them which road signs, bus shelters or traffic lights are likely to be most suitable for holding a new phone mast. These details might include everything from their exact location to proximity to the nearest power source.
If successful, the same approach will be rolled out to all local councils across the UK.
Julia Lopez added: "Currently, mobile companies are finding it difficult to get the data they need to check that a lamppost, bus shelter or public building is suitable for hosting their kit. These eight pilots will help solve this by modernising the way local authorities and operators work together in a way that ultimately delivers faster, more reliable mobile coverage for millions of people."
5G is the next generation of mobile internet connection and offers download speeds up to 100 times that of 4G, making mobile phones much faster and able to process ever larger amounts of data.
The government says in order to broaden the role that mobile technology plays in wider society it needs to enable thousands more smart devices on the street that can connect to the internet and each other and fast.
Gareth Elliott, director of policy and communications of Mobile UK, said phone companies and councils must work together to bring forward better coverage for communities.
He explained: "Reducing the time it takes to deploy mobile infrastructure is important to enable mobile operators to roll out 4G and 5G across the country and to meet ambitious government targets.
"The DCIA trial and its project winners will provide positive examples of how local authorities can use technology to speed up processes and develop effective relationships with mobile operators to improve coverage for all."