Church spires could be used to boost mobile and broadband signal in rural areas, the Culture Secretary has announced.
Church spires could be used to boost mobile and broadband coverage in rural areas under an agreement between the UK government and the Church of England. The government has committed to achieving good-quality mobile connectivity across the UK by 2022. While the agreement encourages churches to sign up, they will still have to negotiate the usual planning process. Digital analysts welcomed the development but said "the devil would be in the detail". "Getting access to suitable sites, particularly in rural areas, has been a real challenge for mobile operators, so any initiative aimed at improving this will be welcomed by the industry," said Matthew Howett, principal analyst at research firm Assembly.
Guidance set out by the Church and Historic England will ensure that any telecoms infrastructure does not impact on the character and architectural or historic significance of churches, the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.
Around two-thirds of Anglican churches and parishes in England are in rural areas, often in the heart of their communities, and so are well-placed to tackle problems of poor connectivity. They will be used alongside other church properties and farm buildings to host telecoms infrastructure. Matt Hancock said: "Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. "This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future, improving people's lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.
Local agreements "What's not clear, though, is what the commercial relationship looks like. There have been many stories of rural landowners effectively holding operators to ransom for access to some sites, which has slowed down rollout and added considerably to the cost." The government said commercial arrangements would be made locally between dioceses or parishes and mobile operators and broadband providers but gave no further details. Two-thirds of Anglican churches are in rural areas and their location at the heart of their communities means they are well-placed to help deliver improved mobile connectivity, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said. Secretary of State Matt Hancock said: "Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country. "This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th Century building can help make Britain fit for the future, improving people's lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas."
'Deplorable' coverage There are already about 120 examples of broadband and mobile services being delivered from parish churches across the country, according to the Church of England.
These take a variety of forms - from wireless transmitters in spires to aerials, satellite dishes and cables. The equipment is used to boost both voice and data coverage.
The Dioceses of Norwich and Chelmsford have been signed up to programmes for at least five years.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, said: "Encouraging churches to improve connectivity will help tackle two of the biggest issues rural areas face - isolation and sustainability. "Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband. We know that rural churches in particular have always served as a hub for their communities."
The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, said using parish churches "creatively" would enhance their value to communities.
According to Ofcom's figures, published in December, 4G coverage - where a signal is available from all four mobile operators - is currently available across 43% of the UK. For calls and text messaging, 70% of the UK can receive a signal from all four operators. At the time, Lord Adonis, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, urged Ofcom to improve mobile service, which he described as "deplorable".
Hamish Macleod, director of Mobile UK, said: "Mobile UK welcomes this announcement from Government and the Church of England, which emphasises the benefits of mobile connectivity to local communities. "Where there is a need, a suitable building is available and appropriate terms can be agreed, the mobile operators will continue to extend their use of churches to increase mobile coverage and capacity, while respecting the church environment."
Credit: BBC, Standard.
Ofcom has announced plans to go ahead with auctioning spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands despite pending legal action by Three UK.
While the 2.3GHz frequencies can be deployed immediately (after they have been awarded to operators) to improve mobile services for customers, 3.4GHz spectrum can be used for future 5G networks.
Ofcom had planned to hold the auction in autumn 2017 but was delayed by litigation brought by Three and BT/EE.
Earlier last year in July, the regulator said it was going to impose caps on the amount of new spectrum that any single operator could acquire. It proposed a cap of 255MHz on the amount of mobile spectrum that was immediately usable after the auction, and then a total cap of 340MHz per operator on overall mobile spectrum following the sale. This latter cap will mean no company can possess more than 37 per cent of all mobile spectrum.
The operator that will be most affected by this is BT/EE which already holds about 42 per cent of all available spectrum. It argued that the cap limits the extent to which it can expand in the future by seeking to acquire extra frequencies. At the same time, it said rivals will have the chance to win a greater share of the airwaves.
However, Three believes the auction rules are too generous to BT/EE. In its submission to Ofcom during the consultation stage, it argued that BT/EE should not be allowed to hold more than 30 per cent of the total spectrum. While Three was prepared to accept the ultimate figure of 37 per cent, it claimed that the regulator gave BT/EE “considerable leeway and tolerance” to possess more than 37 per cent of the spectrum before it finally had to succumb to the cap.
Following an expedited court process recognising the strong public interest in proceeding with the auction, the High Court upheld Ofcom’s decision and dismissed both claims on 20 December 2017. BT/EE is reportedly no longer pursuing its case, but Three has now applied to the Court of Appeal which has expedited matters and will hear the case on 13 and 14 February 2018.
In a press statement released on 17 January, Ofcom said: “The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it. We are keen to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to hold the auction once the judgment of the Court of Appeal has been given.”
As a result, the regulator has decided to go ahead with the auction. It now plans to publish the regulations and guidance for potential bidders on how to take part in the sale on 31 January.
But the formal process of qualifying bidders won’t begin until after the Court of Appeal’s decision is announced, and all parties know whether Ofcom’s decision to impose an overall spectrum cap at 340MHz is upheld.
Credit: Ofcom, Networking+
In 2014, Ofcom announced in the wake of a year-long "consultation" -- a rule making proceeding -- that it was ending Amateur Radio access to significant portions of the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands, where Amateur Radio is secondary. The consultation followed the release by the Ministry of Defence of 40 MHz of spectrum at 2.3 GHz and 150 MHz of spectrum at 3.4 GHz.
"The 2.3 and 3.4 GHz spectrum is needed to provide additional capacity to meet growing consumer demand for mobile broadband," Ofcom said in a statement. "It is important that the frequencies are made available as quickly as possible for the benefit of consumers and industry."
Ofcom also has published a decision to draft regulations allowing Wi-Fi use in the Amateur and Amateur-Satellite Services 5,725-5,850 MHz band. "To make connections faster, we are making regulations to open an additional 125 MHz of spectrum in a 'sub-band' within the 5 GHz frequency range for Wi-Fi -- while ensuring protection for other users, such as satellite services," Ofcom said. The additional sub-band increases the number of 80-MHz channels available for Wi-Fi from four to six.
In 2015, Ofcom said it was considering the Amateur-Satellite Service allocations at 10.475 GHz and 47.0 GHz for 5G use. Ofcom published an update on spectrum bands above 6 GHz that might be suitable for next-generation mobile, often referred to as "5G."
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