Mobile infrastructure project (MIP)
In July 2013, Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, announced that it was working with the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport to bring together a £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which is funding mobile phone masts in uncovered areas for all operators to use. The project is aimed at connecting rural communities, creating local jobs and contributing to economic growth.
Mobile phone coverage will be increased in areas where no coverage is currently available. Cornwall, Northumberland, Strabane, Aberdeenshire and Powys are among the areas that stand to benefit most from the project, with the first sites due to “go live” by the end of this year.
Arquiva has been apppointed the communication infrastructure provider to deliver the £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP). Government is providing capital funding for Arqiva to build the new site infrastructure, while mobile network operators EE, Telefonica, Three and Vodafone will be providing coverage from the sites and funding their operating costs for the 20-year life of the project.
However, it was revealed on 6th October that the deadline for the MIP has been put back until spring in 2016 at the earliest. The reason being that obtaining planning permission for the masts has been an issue and so far there have been only two sites in construction.
Arqiva, which has acknowledged that ‘there had been challenges’ and conceded that the project had ‘taken longer than expected’. Peter Wingate-Saul, Arqiva community relations manager, explained: ‘You have to engage with all stakeholders, including local communities, throughout the implementation process.’ He added: ‘We are currently acquiring, building and switching on sites at a good rate.’
Residents in Northumberland, Cornwall, Strabane, Powys and Aberdeenshire were promised by the government that there would be sites set up by the time 2013 came to an end. However, sites have only appeared in Devon in North Molton and in Yorkshire in Wimborne.
Coverage has improved steadily but there are still around 20 per cent of UK premises that are not able to access a 3G service from the major four operators. The latest figures from Ofcom show that 6.1 per cent of premises are not able get a signal at all from EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.
There is still plenty of opposition to mobile masts being built, especially in rural situations, which has resulted in planning delays. Three, O2, Vodafone and EE have each signed up to providing coverage from each site, and have pledged to cover operating costs for the 20 years that the project is planned to run. The Government also plans to fund the construction of the new site infrastructure.