Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) is the joint network venture between mobile operators EE and Three UK. More information about MBNL can be found here.
The Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) are the companies that own and operate the mobile communication networks across the UK.
The four MNO’s in the UK are Vodafone, O2, EE and Three UK. There are other Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO’s) that you may have heard of such as Virgin Mobile, Tesco, Giff Gaff etc, they use the services provided by the main MNO’s for serving their own customers.
A mobile base station transmits and receives mobile communication signals that enable mobile phones to connect to the network. This can be a mobile phone mast, or can be apparatus positioned on a building, lattice tower or other tall structure.
The main apparatus at a base station are antennas that transmit and receive mobile signal to your phone or other connected device. Such antennas are supported by the mast or other support apparatus such as poles on buildings.
At a base station there is often other equipment such as computers and equipment that help the antennas operate and within cabinets or equipment cabins.
Planning permission for telecom masts
Masts are located to connect the end user’s mobile phone to the networks and as that end user is the owner of the phone, the masts are located predominantly in areas of population density. Town Planning plays a crucial role in approving the installation of such structures and certain permitted development rights are granted to the mobile operators in order to support the quicker deployment of better connectivity across the country. Town Planning is a devolved function in the UK and each region has its own version of regulations. In England the regulations come under Part 16 of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), in Scotland it is Class 67, in Wales Part 24 and in Northern Ireland it is Part 18.
In England the regulations in Part 16 of the GPDO have recently been revised, the responsibility of planning policy when it comes to telecom masts is that of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.
Mobile phone masts and the planning system
As mobile phone use has become more prolific, over the past few years, the Government has taken steps to change and improve the laws and guidelines for the installation of phone masts to ensure good mobile connectivity across the UK.
The regulations are varied, depending upon a host of factors, such as size of the telecom site area, previous upgrade works, the land designation and heights of the installation. Essentially, there are three types of planning application for telecom site development:
- Permitted development with the requirement to notify
Certain minor works may only involve a notification to the Local Planning Authority which has 28 days within which to present an objection which can be considered by the Mobile Operator if reasonable. Such minor works may be additional antennas on existing structures, installations on rooftops in certain land designations or additional equipment cabinets.
- Permitted development with the requirement for prior approval
Prior Approval can be applicable to both ground-based masts and some rooftop installations. It requires a formal application to the Local Planning Authority which has 56 days within which to consider if Prior Approval is required and if it is then whether it is approved or refused. If there is no response during this time, the development can be deemed as being automatically authorised.
- Planning permission that requires a planning application to be submitted to the relevant planning authority
When an installation proposal exceeds the limits set out in the relevant regulations then a Full Planning application will be required. In some instances, certain Permitted Development Rights apply if equipment already exists on the site. Planning applications are also assessed with regard to the Local Development Plans and Neighbourhood plan.*A full explanation regarding the planning types can be found here.
Additional guidance is set out in the Code of Practice for Wireless Network Development issued by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, which are responsible for Telecom’s policy throughout the UK. The Code of Practice provides guidance regarding the type of stakeholder engagement that is required by both the applicant and the Local Planning Authority and also standard template documentation to be used in applications in order to regularise the information provided.
5G is short for ‘fifth generation mobile networks’ and is the successor to 4G mobile network technology.
In the UK, there is significant government support for the delivery of 5G, particularly as this new connectivity will be a step change from earlier generations of mobile connectivity and will help support economic growth and sustainable communities. The Government has a clear ambition for the UK to be a global leader in the next generation of mobile technology – 5G.
As well as offering superfast wireless internet on your phone, it will support a whole range of new and future services, such as driverless cars and transform businesses, the emergency and public services.
Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators, provides comprehensive and factually accurate information on 5G and related topics. These can be found here.
5G will operate at different frequencies than previous generations of mobile connectivity, reflecting frequencies allocated by Ofcom and Government.
All of these frequencies have been ‘reallocated’ from previous uses such as terrestrial television broadcasting, defence and satellite communications. So, these frequencies are not new and have been used for many years in wireless communications services across the UK, now simply reallocated for mobile connectivity.
With each mobile generation, the types, amount and scale of apparatus needed to deliver new mobile connectivity change, and this will be even more evident with 5G. As a mobile base station will need to provide the new 5G technology, and also retain other existing services like 4G and 3G, existing apparatus has to be changed.
5G is likely to require more antennas due to the need to ensure resilient coverage and in some locations, particularly towns and cities, the operators may need additional antennas simply to meet network capacity requirements. 5G will often require apparatus to be higher to meet various operational and technical issues and meet health and safety regulations.
MBNL does not set its own health and safety standard but relies on guidelines covering the safety of radio transmissions which have been adopted by the UK Government.
All mobile base stations must meet the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) for limiting public exposure to mobile communication network apparatus. ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation as the international independent advisory body for non-ionising radiation protection. The functions of the Commission are to investigate the hazards of Non-Ionising Radiation (NIR), to develop international guidelines on NIR exposure limits and to deal with all aspects of NIR protection. The ICNIRP guidelines form the basis of regulatory limits for radio frequency emissions in most parts of the world, including the UK and the EU. Mobile network operators are required to ensure that the emission levels of their signals conform to those limits and this requirement forms part of the licence conditions set by Ofcom.
The ICNIRP guidelines seek to protect against the widely known thermal effects of radio emissions and include a significant precautionary factor. 5G installations will have ICNIRP compliance zones where the public will be excluded.
“5G Q&A” by MBNL
Frequently Asked Questions related to the ICNIRP RF EMF Guidelines 2020