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UK government forges closer links with Japan, proposes laws to accelerate mobile

Agreement with Japan aims for closer cooperation to solve global telecoms supply chain issues, including support for R&D collaboration on future tech such as Open RAN and 6G

As it aims to accelerate the roll-out of mobile across the country, the UK government has revealed plans to now only erase mobile coverage “not spots” in rural areas thorough what it calls “barrier-busting” laws, as well as an agreement with the Japanese government to strengthen cooperation on efforts to diversify the technology used in telecoms networks.

The regulations will see reform to planning laws with the objective of reducing the number of phone masts needed to improve 4G and 5G mobile coverage as telecoms firms will be able to upgrade existing infrastructure over building new masts.

The new laws are intended to allow mobile network operators to get more freedom to make new and existing phone masts up to five metres taller and two metres wider than current rules permit. This will boost the range of masts, create room for the extra equipment needed for faster networks and make it easier for operators to share infrastructure.

In addition, the UK government assured that it will put tough new legal duties on operators to minimise the visual impact of network equipment, particularly in protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas, world heritage sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The move is also intended to help deliver the government-led £1bn Shared Rural Network being built to eliminate 4G mobile “not spots” in the countryside and allow communities to enjoy the revolutionary benefits of 5G technologies sooner, including specialised robots and drones driving productivity in agricultural industries. The plans are also intended to bring better mobile coverage to road users by allowing building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways. Furthermore, the UK government believes families and businesses will benefit from faster 5G roll-out by making it easier for operators to use buildings to host their kit.

Commenting on the move, Hamish MacLeod, chief executive of Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators, said: “Building the mobile networks that provide the connectivity on which we all rely is both complex and challenging. The industry welcomes the reforms to planning regulations proposed by the government. They will enable operators to deploy mobile networks more efficiently to meet ambitious targets for rural and urban coverage, including next-generation 5G.”

“We’ve all felt the frustration of having the ‘no bar blues’ when struggling to get a phone signal, so we’re changing the law to wipe out mobile ‘not spots’ and dial up the roll-out of next-generation 5G,” said Julia Lopez, the UK minister for digital infrastructure.

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Along with Japan’s vice-minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Yuji Sasaki, Lopez also agreed several joint initiatives to support efforts to reduce the global over-reliance on a small number of suppliers to build and maintain telecoms networks.

The UK has already announced similar partnerships with India and the US to work closer together to achieve shared ambitions on telecoms diversification. These will support the UK’s £250m 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, which seeks to build a more competitive and diverse telecoms supply market by supporting incumbent suppliers, attracting new suppliers into the UK market and accelerating the development and deployment of open-interface services such as Open RAN.

In this latest move, Japan and the UK committed to greater information sharing on their respective policy approaches, seeking to build a more competitive and diverse global market for telecoms equipment, including for 5G and future wireless networks.

Further commitments include deeper cooperation on research and development, particularly on open and interoperable network technologies such as Open RAN, and an agreement to share information and facilitate joint efforts between industry and academia in both countries to develop future communications technologies such as 6G.

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