back to article UK.gov: Huge mobile masts coming to a grassy hill near you soon

The British government has raised the spectre of giant mobile masts looming large over the English countryside in its 5G consultation review paper as a further loosening of planning regulations is considered. Under the the Electronic Communications Code, the current height restriction for masts is 25 metres – and 20 metres in …

  1. Detective Emil

    "4G still remains patchy in large parts of the country"

    In my experience, 3G's not that great out in the sticks, either.

    I recently visited rural Romania (hilly) and Latvia and Lithuania (flattish). All had fine 3G everywhere, and a lot of 4G. And, yes, a skyline pierced by tall masts.

    1. Richard Jones 1
      WTF?

      Re: "4G still remains patchy in large parts of the country"

      Yes and with the current move to complicate card payment processes making a functioning mobile essential, having mobile reception cannot come too soon. From the top of a nearby field, (you cannot call it a hill), you can see the taller buildings of central London. However, never a signal on the mobile at home. Speech is impossible 'please use the land line' and without Wi-Fi there is no data service - ever.

      Perhaps the banking changes were a move to make cheques more popular as a bill payment method?

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: "4G still remains patchy in large parts of the country"

      In my experience, 3G's not that great out in the sticks, either.

      My in-laws in darkest Powys can only get a mobile signal by hanging out of a bedroom window or walking up the hill.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: "4G still remains patchy in large parts of the country"

        10 miles from Watford Hertfordshire I can only get a mobile signal by hanging over the bathroom sink, and even that can drop out if I turn my head.

        I also get 450kb/s broadband, so despite Gt. Bernera being given Gb/s, the real propsect of generally available high speed communications seems remote.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    Health concerns

    I don't agree with all these microwave masts.

    Even with the steel wool knitted cap made by my good lady wife, every time I go near a mast my brain explodes.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Health concerns

      Don't pull the cap on so tightly then! Simplez!

    2. Anomalous Custard

      Re: Health concerns

      Make sure you line it with foil - added protection, plus it means it'll be easier to clean - no more having to try and get bits of brain out of the steel knit.

    3. caffeine addict Silver badge

      Re: Health concerns

      Have you connected your steel wool hat to the regulation PP9 anti-interference module?

  3. Paul Herber Silver badge

    complaints about masts

    I tried to complain about a local mast once, but couldn't get a decent signal!

  4. Alister Silver badge

    Given the prevalence of windmills on every skyline now, being Nimby about a phone mast seems pointless.

    1. thondwe

      Bit of form over function though - Windymills - generally aerodynamic and simple, mobile masts - but ugly mess of tangled metal? Surely possible to dress them up a bit better?

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        @thondwe

        There are quite a few masts around disguised as palm trees or pines, though I suppose that would lead to birds with brain cancer nesting in them.

        1. Pete4000uk

          We have quite a few that look like tall light poles with a thicker section on top.

        2. Col_Panek

          They don't fool anybody.

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Obvious (and cheap) solution - stick 4G/5G antennae on top of the windmills. Many of these are 50m tall, so give even better coverage[*] as well as minimising the number of spikes on the skyline.

      * assuming GRP blades are used, not CFRP, which is true for smaller land-based turbines.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        We're out in the sticks, frustratingly in the shadow of a hill as far as our nearest mast goes.

        The masts here are all painted a grey-green colour. Not as noticable as you'd think. Certainly better than the one pictured in the article.

        Does anyone on here know at what height they have to put flashing lights on the top? That's when they'll become a real eyesore.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Does anyone on here know at what height they have to put flashing lights on the top? That's when they'll become a real eyesore.

          AFAIK there is a relation to proximity of an airfield here but I think it's around the 40m or so. There's also a secondary spec that defines IR lights for military use.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Yes the two 'magic' heights in the UK are 45m and 150m: under 45m location determines whether a light is needed, over 45m at least a top light and possibly other lights, over 150m full aviation lights.

            Whilst proximity to an airfield is a major factor, the military also have a role. Round my way the military like to practice low level flying (at times I'm sure they are using the Chinnocks to trim the hedges) so it is advisable to put lights on anything that pokes above the tree line.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              (at times I'm sure they are using the Chinnocks to trim the hedges)

              Nah, it's a valuable public service to test car alarms!

              Kinda curious how effective masts would be on top of windmills though given potential interference from blades, either from composition or embedded stuff like lightning conductors & de-icers. ISTR there were some concerns around offshore windmills and radar coverage though.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              " it is advisable to put lights on anything that pokes above the tree line."

              One place I worked had regular problems with hotdogging A4 skyhawk pilots removing the light red covers (and occasionally the entire light assemblies) from the top of our 40m masts. It consistently surprised me that we didn't have an occasional "guest" in the surrounding fields.

  5. old_IT_guy

    Can someone explain...

    what's the fuss about 5G anyway? yes, it's faster, but how many people actually need that speed increase?

    Isn't this a a solution looking for a problem and not finding one big enough to justify the spend but going ahead anyway?

    It's hard for me not to see this as another case of an industry pushing a technology that there isn't a real need for - yet at any rate - to boost profits/share prices and the technically/scientifically illiterate and usually innumerate government helping them with wads of our cash and possible deregulation.

    In the end it costs us all money, from the tax money the government use to subsidise trials and roll-out (remember BT took a bunch of tax cash which wasn't [all?] used for what it was intended for?) to increased monthly charges from the mobile telcos to their customers, which are already far higher than they should be imnsho.

    I fail to see the benefit, am I missing something, obvious or otherwise?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Can someone explain...

      5G is less about speed than enabling billions of pieces of IoT tat, so money is the thing not speed.

      Just think how happy people will be when their toilet roll holder asks Amazon to send a truck load of puppy toys, because it can't sense a roll in place.

      No more having wipe your arse with one of your socks because you forgot to buy toilet paper.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        Do Amazon not sell swan necks? In packs of 50? What is one to do?

        1. TimMaher Bronze badge
          Coat

          Re: Can someone explain...

          That reminds me of Not The 9 O’clock News and “Soft, absorbent, Labrador puppies.”

          Mine’s the one with a box of Bronco in the pocket.

    2. Pangasinan Philippines

      Re: Can someone explain...

      Everyone wants the fastest broadband but can't get a pure fibre feed into the home.

      5G will only need a stick with the antenna in a fibreglass box to receive the signal. Thus doing away with digging up the streets to lay fibre.

      End result will be higher speeds without the ISP going bust over cable laying costs.

      But I already have a fibre feed into my house in this third world country (Philippines) :-)

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        >5G will only need a stick with the antenna in a fibreglass box to receive the signal. Thus doing away with digging up the streets to lay fibre.

        A few decades back there was a company called Ionica, they had a product that required the attaching of a fibreglass/plastic box antenna to a home to bypass BT and get 64kbps! data services and telephone.

        As I'm sure you've already concluded, it wasn't a great success. Whilst there were many factors one of

        the ones relevant to the discussion here, was finding an accessible antenna mounting location with a good signal...

        I know 3/4/5G have different radio technologies and frequencys, but radio waves are radio waves...

        1. hairydog

          Re: Can someone explain...

          Ionica failed because they initially focussed only on voice calls, and instead of spending on software to support data properly, they spent a fortune on swanky new head office buildings.

          There was nothing wrong with the concept or the signal.

          I really some dispute about software licensing too, but I forget the details.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Can someone explain...

            Yes, there were many reasons why the business actually failed - another was their customers were too geographically spread and so in many areas they weren't achieving break even levels of utilisation/revenue for their backhaul, resulting in costs being greater than income.

            Agree the concept was good, just that the real-world execution was flawed. I seem to remember there was a similar company in Scotland who had more focused ambitions and did reasonably well in the areas they targeted.

      2. NeilPost Bronze badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        Yet a cursory search for Internet speeds in SEAsia does not even have the Philippine’s anywhere on the leading connectivity/speeds.

        Assuming you live in Mania where this is a reality and the rest of the country has largely crappy internet.

        Even the much lauded S Korea with ‘Fibre everywhere’ average Internet speed still does not exceed 100Mbit/s @July 2019.

    3. Sulky

      Re: Can someone explain...

      Whilst speed is a feature of 5G it is by no means the most important one. Low latency, mass device communication and reliability are more important for sectors such as manufacturing. I've been involved in some research to see how it can be applied to various arenas and whether or not it would be economic to utilise and open up new markets for manufacturing in conjunction with robotics. The initial results are very promising. Don't just take my word for it, you can read overviews here https://www.raconteur.net/technology/5g-network-faster

      https://www.raconteur.net/technology/4g-vs-5g-mobile-technology

      Unfortunately the speed has been the focus of many media outlets who are focused on consumers, hopefully business will look beneath the hood and realise the real potential.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        > Low latency, mass device communication and reliability are more important for sectors such as manufacturing.

        All very worthy but you know in your heart that the mobile marketing folks are going to pitch it as 'low latency - for pro gamers' and business will be dissuaded for even longer.

    4. Michael

      Re: Can someone explain...

      There are a number of advantages. largely around the increased use of MIMO directional antenna, improved capacity and better uplink speeds. For businesses and users with higher upload requirements 5G will make a huge difference as the speed achievable are significantly improved. There are plenty of business uses for the 5g network that need more responsive upload speeds. These can't come to market until the network exists.

      I have to agree that for most users it will make little difference and the increase in mast height will be more significant to more people. Equally, networks will be upgrading their hardware anyway to maximise profits by reducing the number of mast required or by being able to service more customers. There will be a long term benefit to users as data usage continues to increase.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        But most of the places that will get 5G coverage already get a decent internet connection, so they could just use wifi instead, (given that the range of 5G is barely better than wifi.)

        That much bandwidth is practically wasted on a mobile device anyway, as the actually do anything with that much data will drain your battery in no time at all.

        Rural areas, which currently have to put up with the ADSL equivalent of a damp string, are lucky to get any phone reception, let alone an internet connection, so it'll make sod all difference to them. Taller masts might just be useful there though.

        1. NeilPost Bronze badge

          Re: Can someone explain...

          Things just arrived like 3’s Unlimited Home Broadband from £21/month (with Home 4G HomeWifi router) are where this is going.

          Realistically if you can get good 4G, you will get 10-20Mbit/s now and can cut the copper 5G will push that past FTTH towards FTTH low end.

          This is the game-changer.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Can someone explain...

            >This is the game-changer.

            Well given everyones experience, I suspect the sector where this is a game changer is the one where there is little need for real speed etc. namely those who are happy with sub-8MB ADSL and most probably use less than 4GB of data a month ie. only use it for email and a basic browsing.

            1. NeilPost Bronze badge

              Re: Can someone explain...

              Yes, it’s the reasonable broadband and ability to cut the copper today.

              4G unlimited Home Broadband

              - gaming: check

              - web: check

              - Download/Streaming Music/Video: check

              - e-mail: check

              - home teleworking: check

              - home security/telemetry: check

              @£21/year it’s now really-really compelling. I don’t really need the full capacity Vodafone 75Mbit/s I get now for £24/month. It is nice I suppose for downloads, but a bit of patience gets the same end result.

          2. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: Can someone explain...

            "Realistically if you can get good 4G"

            That's my point, places that get 4G (and that will get 5G) generally have good fixed internet connections. Places with crappy ADSL usually don't get 2G, let alone 3/4/5G.

            Yes there's exceptions, but it's a good rule of thumb. If anything, I'd expect isolated communities to get fibre (or similar) before they get mobile coverage.

            1. NeilPost Bronze badge

              Re: Can someone explain...

              It’s far-far cheaper to deliver ‘good’ 4G to the sticks than BoJo’s Fibre to absolutely 100% of the UK - inc. the arse end of the deepest sticks where to FTTP a single Welsh/Yorkshire/Scottish sheep farm could cost many £10K’s.

              There is a fundamental reason much of the sticks does not have in every hamlet or small village mains gas, Virgin Media, Superfast Broadband, a Secondary School, Amazon Prime Now, Tesco Express. Enjoy the better lifestyle and ecosystem in the country though.

              ... return on investment. The only reason they all even have land-lines was the GPO and then subsequently BT’s Universal Service Obligation ... regardless of the cost.

              1. phuzz Silver badge

                Re: Can someone explain...

                For 4G you need a whacking great tower (or several) and some kind of backhaul to that tower. Fibre just needs a bundle of fibres hooking onto the already existing telegraph poles. 5G is even less likely given the range, you'd need a separate tower for each village and hamlet, more if there were hills in the way.

                I'm basing this on the village I grew up in, which does have mobile reception provided you stand upstairs by a window on the right side of the building (no internet though, or at least not reliable enough to send data over), but recently had fibre pulled from the nearest exchange.

            2. Kernel Silver badge

              Re: Can someone explain...

              "That's my point, places that get 4G (and that will get 5G) generally have good fixed internet connections."

              Yeah - living in a backward country like NZ, at our city home we have to try and decide which ISP we'll get to deliver service to the fibre that ends under the desk in the home office, whereas out at our beach house there's no fibre and we only get to choose between the four ISPs that will deliver a decent connection speed over 4G (good enough I can reliably do video conferencing for work).

              How did the UK manage to stuff things up so badly? - you've got about the same land area as we do and quite a few more people eg., the population of London alone is almost twice the population of NZ.!

    5. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Can someone explain...

      "what's the fuss about 5G anyway?"

      It goes up to 5, that's like one whole G better.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Can someone explain...

        >It goes up to 5, that's like one whole G better.

        Now I understand, can't wait for "up to eleven" G ...

    6. David Shaw

      Re: Can someone explain...

      all these people, schools etc that worry about having a big tall 5G mast near their brains...

      ...as Radio Frequency (even packetised 5G blobs of RF) follows the laws of fizziks, inverse square means that if you double the height of a mast, at brain level down by the street you'll probably be absorbing a quarter of the energy that the 2G/3G half-height mast would throw at you....

      MIMO antennas might point it in special directions, hence fairly difficult to actually measure this, would need a £100K of R&S test-things, but still I'd rather have tall masts in big cells than a couple of watts just next to my ear ...er...

      1. AlbertH
        Childcatcher

        Re: Can someone explain...

        I've done wi-fi and mobile phone base installations in all sorts of places. School Teachers are the worst - they began complaining of "headaches and nausea" due to our installation on their school roof - and were very embarrassed when we showed them that we'd not actually installed the mains supply to the equipment cabinet....

        These idiots that claim that they're sensitive to RF - "if I go into a cafe with wi-fi, I break out in a rash" - need to go and learn some very basic radiation physics. They get more irradiated standing outside on a sunny day!

  6. Simon Rockman

    mast whining

    This has been going on for a very long time. https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/27/ministry_of_fun_announces_tries_again_on_mobile_mast_planning_permission/

    The major thing a change in the rules is that it takes away the networks' excuse that they can't provide coverage because the rules are too restrictive.

    Although to be fair to the networks they signed up to better coverage and then the goverment failed tto deliver on 900MHz spectrum licensing and mast planning: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/03/27/1uk_voda_ceo_says_one_thing_about_not_spots_minister_of_fun_says_another/

    Simon

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wind turbines?

    What's their excuse to limit the size of the antennas? Wind turbines were proven to be far more nefarious to the environment, (depending on the sources you believe) and they are HUGE.

    I didn't understand it at all.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Proposal to mobile telcos.

      It might also encourage more people to take up Amateur Radio

      Why would you do that? They take up valuable spectrum which could be sold off for lots of money...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Alister Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Proposal to mobile telcos.

          Did you forget the joke icon

          I didn't think it was necessary. However you've proved again what a humourless lot commentards can be.

          Thanks for biting.

          Oh, and my callsign starts G1 but I'm not posting it in full on a public forum.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Proposal to mobile telcos.

            "Oh, and my callsign starts G1 but I'm not posting it in full on a public forum."

            No, you just broadcast it in the clear every time you go on air :-)

            (Although I can see you might not want to link your posting ID with a traceable, identifiable call sign)

  9. David Pearce

    The health effects camp will fail to understand that a taller mast reduces signal at ground level near the mast and also reduces the signal from your own phone as it does not have to go at full blast to reach a mast in the next road but behind a house.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, but they will also need more powerful transmitters to take advantage of the improved range. Without taller masts, 5G would have worse coverage than current 4G, since high frequency signals don't pass through obstructions so well.

      Here's hoping they keep these masts as unobtrusive as possible.

  10. Barrie Shepherd

    A taller shared mast is preferable to multiple shorter masts all within a couple of hundred meters of each other. Any change of planning should also mandate sharing of masts and set some minimum distance before the next mast. Shame that, as with may things, we only hear of these proposals well into or just after the time public comment periods.

    If taller masts and 5G systems remove the need for power line communication devices, and the un-policed interference they cause, bring it on!

    1. Alister Silver badge

      A taller shared mast is preferable to multiple shorter masts all within a couple of hundred meters of each other.

      Wrong. See David Pearce' post above

      1. Barrie Shepherd

        ???

        As I read it that's agreeing that taller masts are preferable, better line of sight path therefore lower power.

        1. Alister Silver badge

          You're right, it does. I apologise.

        2. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

          @Barrie: "better line of sight path therefore lower power."

          Indeed, because if you are 500 metres away from a mast (and the article was talking about rural masts) the difference in path between a mast at 20 metres and 25 metres is about 22cm so not significant from an inverse square law perspective. But yeah, if that extra 5m gives you line of sight, Bazinga!

  11. hatti

    Beanz meanz heinz

    All this started with two empty baked bean cans and some string, look at the mess it's got us into.

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Beanz meanz heinz

      Baked bean cans don't have the correct resonant frequency, paper cups are the correct medium

      1. Col_Panek

        Re: Beanz meanz heinz

        You need a Pringle's potato chip can to make a proper wifi antenna

  12. hoola Bronze badge

    5G And Building Penetration?

    I thought that one of the problems with 5G is that the radio waves do not penetrate buildings. If this is the case, how is building fewer, larger towers going to help at all other than permit the mobile networks to shout, "hey, we have provided 5G everywhere".

    Shouldn't the focus be on smaller cells on lampposts and such like, assuming there is even demand for it. There is much more to this than just providing coverage and has to be lobbying to be able to build these towers regardless of their usefulness.

    1. David Shaw

      Re: 5G And Building Penetration?

      according to that Huawei (vaporware?) 8K TV & indoor 5G router that they were advertising at a trade-show, they suggested that the Huawei TV would be your access point for the outdoor network and the rebroadcaster for your indoor 5G network. I'm not sure if they aim to compete or work in parallel with

      Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax or successors, my house will not enjoy 4.8GHz packets that much, seems to just absorb all RF

      or they might just have been winding up Trumpton/US nat sec orgs with talk of indoor 5G routers

    2. Alterhase

      Re: 5G And Building Penetration?

      I live in one of the high-rent areas of Sillycon Valley, and I have to go out of my house to the street to get a usable cell-phone signal (4G).

      But one of my neighbors has started a "no 5G antennas in my area - think of the children" campaign. (He probably has a WiFi router in his house to irradiate them already.....)

      Even here we have Luddites.

      1. Col_Panek

        Re: 5G And Building Penetration?

        But teh RADIAAAATION!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't like to defend NIMBYs, but...

    It seems to me that an alternative way of phrasing this story would be:

    "Large companies would like existing laws to be changed so that they don't have to spend as much money to preserve their market positions."

    Before allowing them to put up double-height masts, I think it's a fair question to ask why the existing law was written the way it is. There may have been good reasons which are no longer valid, for example. It would be nice to know.

    The cynic in me also thinks that we are going to see a lot more calls to change inconvenient laws which stand in the way of corporations making vast amounts of money at the expense of the environment (or the health of the public) in the future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't like to defend NIMBYs, but...

      More like Large companies would like laws that make it frankly impossible for them to even hit the population % targets they were set because of the nimby's who on one hand complain about masts and demand "think of the children" then on the other bitch about it when their phone stops working because the one mast they couldn't stop 2 miles away went down.. taller masts = better distance+more overlap.. Overlap = redundancy!!

  14. NeilPost Bronze badge

    Scotch Corner to Penrith

    Having just driven the A66 Scotch Corner to Penrith, 4G is very patchy and would deliver some semblance of Fast Broadband along that roite without needing to deliver unviable fibre. Even more with 5G.

    The problem with 5G is the higher density of masts needed.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And the Emergency Services Network?

    I just wonder what will happen to the overdue and over-budget new 4G network that's meant to replace Airwave...

  16. Nifty

    5G power consumption?

    I read somewhere that 5G masts use around 1kW or something like 4 times as much as a 3/4G mast.

    1. Barrie Shepherd

      Re: 5G power consumption?

      "I read somewhere that 5G masts use around 1kW or something like 4 times as much as a 3/4G mast."

      If you mean the actual radio power then it is usually expressed as EIRP which is 'distributed' across the whole 100 MHz, or so bandwidth, and 'directed' by the polar pattern of the antenna system. Underneath the tower power will be the same or less than at, say 30 degrees and 400 metres away and lower power at any specific frequency.

      This is factors of 10 less than digital TV transponders run.

    2. Col_Panek

      Re: 5G power consumption?

      If they are a lot closer to you, your phone will put out much less power to reach the tower. The power density from your own phone is a lot higher than the tower power density.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    We have the "giant towers" here

    Iowa is the land of the classical "giant cell towers". Don't know what the height limit is but a few are tall enough to have tower lighting on them to let aircraft know they are there. The countryside has plenty of farmland with a (as far as I know) non-functional wind mill (I assume to literally mill the corn?), silos, etc, there's poles for power and phone along almost every road; really the occasional tower blends in OK with this. It's pretty sweet to have at least a bar of LTE coverage almost everywhere statewide.

    As for 5G? There's really 2 modes for it... one runs at high microwave band (like in the US it's 24, 26, 28ghz bands), this is the mode where they run 100+mhz of it and get the huge speeds the carriers all tout. This is line of site and is expected to have a range of a few city blocks. The other runs in existing LTE bands (or whatever, unused bands that could be used for LTE but a company puts 5G in there instead), it is expected to get about a 20% speed boost over LTE. Interestingly, a few cellular equipment vendors have worked out how to share an existing LTE channel, it can run some timeslices LTE-style and some 5G-style so 5G-capable devices get that bit of extra speed, the channel just kind of shifts between LTE and 5G depending on actual traffic.

  18. Cynicalmark

    This is it, the apocalypse is nigh, ffs we fried our brain long ago with Nokias so no real point complaining now.

    I do wonder if 5g will finally be enough or is 6 & 7 which are not far off, going to be the next big thing - maybe none of the above with Musks satcubes looking down on us.

    Buy tinfoil peeps - they can’t read your thoughts if you ground it using a cucumber up your ass.

  19. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Slight inaccuracy in the article ...

    There isn't a "limit" for towers at present. In theory they can be any height the operator thinks makes the right business case.

    What there is, and it's "sort of" mentioned in the article, a permitted development right allowing certain size towers to be built by the network operators without needing planning permission.

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