Future 5G network requires huge investment in rural masts

Image credit: iStock/Kim_white

Ensuring that faster and more reliable phone coverage is available to the whole of the UK could mean up to 400,000 extra masts, according to experts. Rural areas of Britain that are without access to high-speed phone coverage and internet may only be able to access these through thousands of extra masts, many of which will have to stand at 80ft high.

This news comes after chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that £1.1 billion was set to be invested into the development of the 5G network in the UK. Last month's (March) budget pledged that the country would benefit from the network, which will deliver better phone and mobile internet, by early in 2020. 

However, a report from consumer watchdog Which? in October of last year revealed that around half of England's mobile users don't have access to the 4G network, while Wales only benefits from this faster network for around 33 per cent of the time. 

Even in city locations, many people don't get access to the current 4G network, which was designed to improve mobile communications compared to 3G. Those in London are only able to access 4G around 70 per cent of the time, with people suffering from the worst download speeds in the country in the capital. 

This suggests that many people will not have access to the future 5G network, which could affect individuals and businesses.

Rural areas are among those most affected by slow mobile internet speed and unreliable phone service. This is why experts from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), King's College London and Surrey and Sussex universities have predicted that 25-metre masts will be needed to ensure as many people as possible will benefit from the future 5G network. 

As well as this, the number of masts and base stations across the country will have to increase by ten times. Despite this, the fastest speeds are likely to only be available in city locations, meaning thousands of people will still miss out. 

Professor Will Stewart from the IET said: “There is nowhere near enough capacity to deliver what we think the system needs, there never has been.

“The crucial thing is you need to be shorter range to deliver the extra capacity, that means more base stations, at least ten times more, maybe 100 times. There are between 30,000 and 40,000 masts now."

Although 5G is being touted as the network that will allow for more technologies to emerge, the current network of masts could drastically reduce its impact. It could also mean that many businesses fail to keep up with advances due to their inability to optimise their mobile internet activity if they are in low-coverage areas.