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+
The Home Office provided a positive update to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), addressing recommendations made in a report earlier this year.
Philip Rutnam, permanent secretary for the Home Office, said the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) remains committed to providing emergency services users the time they need to transition safely to the Emergency Service Network (ESN) and are working on the assumption of a continuing need for a 27-month user transition period once mobilization has been completed.
“The delay in the program has given more time to prepare for transition, and this could ultimately mean the total length of time required for transition could reduce,” said the letter to Meg Hillier with PAC. “However work continues on an integrated program plan to cover both the mobilization and transition periods.”
Rutnam said the Home Office has been engaging with the user community to get its feedback on the updated program plan, transition timelines and regional transition running order. ESMCP recently deployed a team of local implementation leads, funded from departmental budgets, to help users develop their own individual transition readiness requirements and plans.
The current transition timetable includes a contingency of two months within each of the three emergency service regions' budgeted 12-month transition period. Following completion of the current review of transition timing undertaken in conjunction with three emergency service user representatives, the program will re-assess the level of contingency necessary to support the revised plan.
“I would like to reassure you again that there will be no risks taken with public safety, and there will be no gap in the emergency services' communications provision,” Rutnam said.
In August 2016, the Home Office and the other emergency services agreed to a change control note to the Airwave emergency services contracts that makes a provision for extension of the contracts beyond the national shutdown target date of 31 December, 2019.
“Furthermore, the program is separately forecasting what further Airwave extensions might be required to provide for an extended period of transition,” the letter said. “The cost of these extensions will be included within the full business case forecast that guides the departments in forming their future budgets for the program.”
Rutnam said a final transition plan will be in place by December, and the Home Office will provide another update in November.
The full letter is here.
The Driving Innovation in Crisis Management for European Resilience (DRIVER) project is being relaunched as DRIVER+.
The Driver Project originally launched in May 2014 and was funded under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission. The original project worked to help emergency management practitioners cope with current and future challenge due to increasingly severe consequences of natural disasters and terrorist threats by the development of uptake of innovative solutions that address operational needs.
To kick off the relaunch of the project, all partners met in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 25 – 27 September for a meeting that set the stage for the next years of activities. The meeting also facilitated discussions with invited European Union funded projects, initiatives and practitioner organizations on concrete opportunities for collaboration in the near future.
The project aims to deliver the following by April 2020, the end date of the project:
• A pan-European test bed for crisis management capability development will enable practitioners to create a space in which stakeholders can collaborate in testing and evaluating new products, tools, processes or organizations solutions.
• A portfolio of solutions (PoS) in the form of database-driven website will aim to document all DRIVER+ solutions. These will be tested via trials during the project lifetime. Ultimately, the PoS will be opened up to any external organizations willing to share data and experience of solutions.
• A shared understanding in crisis management across Europe, through the enhancement of the cooperation framework will be achieved, amongst other methods, by building a dedicated Community of Practice in Crisis Management (CoPCM), closely aligned to and supporting the Community of Users (CoU) initiative from DG Home and the Disaster Risk management Knowledge Center.
To achieve all of that, a series of events, each serving a particular set of objectives will be organized during the project’s lifetime. Benefiting from the DRIVER+ test bed components, four trials will be organized to operationalize and test the solutions, and the results will be stored in the PoS. The trials will be based on updated crisis management gaps and practitioner needs.
The main gaps and needs identified so far are cross-border tasking and resource management, high-level coordination, volunteer management and situation assessment and logistics. Towards the end of the project a final demonstration will showcase the selected solutions and demonstrate the added value when the European level is brought into operation.
Also, in order to strengthen the policy research dialogue on research and demonstration activities in crisis management and to increase the EU added value of the DRIVER+ trials, policy research roundtables will take place and will involve policymakers before the trials and final demonstration. This will allow discussion on potential EU policies to be addressed and the involvement of DG Home and DG ECHO/ERCC staff members. There will also be roundtables after the events to allow discussions on the results and the potential policy implications.
To complement the activities, two editions of the Innovation for Crisis Management (I4CM) event will be organized in Warsaw and Copenhagen so as to address crisis management practitioners and stakeholders at a regional level, therefore providing a relay towards the EU level and complementing initiatives such as the CoU. A final conference will be organized in Brussels to communicate on the final project results.
Between DRIVER and DRIVER+, the project structure has been simplified to clearly link the objective and the results of the project and to improve the path towards successful implementation of the project plans. To reflect the new architecture of the project, the leadership and project management team have changed, some partners have left and some new partners have joined the consortium.
In addition, the involvement of external stakeholders, crisis management experts, practitioners and solution providers has been significantly enhanced. DRIVER+ is resolutely open to the external world and its success will largely depend on its capacity to develop strong links with external collaborators. To achieve this, DRIVER+ will foster the formation of the CoPM, linking existing crisis management networks and organizing events especially tailored to that purpose.
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