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A coherent, streamlined approach to planning is just as important as small cell infrastructure requirements when it comes to 5G rollout

It estimates that a further 300,000 small cells need to be deployed in the next three to four years to serve 5G networks, meaning that the modernisation of infrastructure planning guidelines will be a key component of decreasing the time required for 5G rollout.

In terms of streamlining local and national government infrastructure rules for small cells the report suggests updating rules for small cell deployments in rights-of-way and creating reasonable fee structures for small cells.

While the report focuses on the US, it’s clear that these challenges apply equally to other countries. Planning procedures and guidelines for 5G rollout need to be updated everywhere in order to obtain the coverage density that is required to deliver the performance promised. If planning policies cannot be modified to support the density needed to support 5G, then the expected benefits cannot be accrued.

Against this background, the UK Government has drawn up ambitious plans for leadership in 5G and the new services it will enable. It wishes to see the UK at the head of the pack, rather than lagging, as was the case with 4G. Consequently, the UK needs to accelerate and to expedite small cell coverage if the Government is to meet its plans for the UK to become a leader in the development and deployment of 5G mobile technology, and more broadly in the deployment of next-generation digital infrastructure. Planning is critical to this, to ensure that small cell deployment is not held back by lengthy consultations and processes.

Of course, there are other instruments that can help. For example, allowing spectrum assets to be sub-let locally. This would allow, say, a local provider to rollout 5G coverage in a rural area, rather than waiting for one of the major operators to do it. While the Accenture report highlights the problem areas, it doesn’t offer too many recommendations to overcome these challenges.

To that end, Analysys Mason has just been commissioned by the UK’s Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) to explore barriers to the deployment of 5G mobile networks in the UK, and to make recommendations on how those barriers might be addressed.

The report goes on to outline 21 recommendations, which are all classified according to whether they are aimed at UK government, devolved governments, local authorities and/or industry stakeholders. The recommendations have implications for central government policies on UK-wide promotion of 5G, as well as for local authority processes and engagement on 5G, and industry preparations for 5G launch.

Despite the obvious need for greater small cell density, it’s interesting to note that measures to help with planning deployment (from local authorities to national government) are not considered as short-term priorities.

While we welcome the BSG report, which has many valuable insights, clearly, this is a huge problem. Streamlined infrastructure deployment and the need to share spectrum are obvious challenges, but it’s equally essential that planning, a coherent approach across all levels of government, listening to local requirements and objections, and so on, are all dealt with at the earliest opportunity. Planning cannot be left to the future – it needs to be addressed now, if 5G is to be anything other than a metropolitan indulgence.