Deploying telecoms infrastructure in rural areas comes with its challenges. These include:
- Obtaining planning consent in sensitive areas (conservation areas, SSSI, AONB etc)
- Proving power (often many miles from the nearest mains provision)
- Back haul provision
As a result, building new telecoms infrastructure in rural and remote areas is significantly more expensive than in urban areas where power is closer, planning consent often more easily obtained with less stakeholder engagement required, and where an operator will likely have a number of options for backhaul from existing nearby network connections (other mobile operators, BT Openreach etc).
The AssetHUB provides a “single version of the truth”, providing detailed information about existing assets (ducting, fibre runs, trenches, towers, street lighting columns, bus stops, roof tops etc) that could be used to reduce costs and speed up the roll out of infrastructure. In the case of our project that means mapping large parts of rural Dorset.
AssetHUB exists as a cloud based portal where those planning infrastructure builds can check to see what existing infrastructure is in place. The portal is also intended to make the procurement process cheaper and easier, thereby providing asset owners with a way to monetise their asset base.
The tool also considers security aspects of data availability, recognising that some of the information about asset location could be sensitive not just from a Critical National Infrastructure perspective but also recognising that some commercial organisations may only want their data to be made available to authorised individuals or organisations.
Neutral Host solutions have the potential to make a real difference in rural areas. While the shared rural network (SRN) will help to improve connectivity in many parts of the UK there will remain significant areas of more remote parts of the UK where there is poor or no mobile coverage, and certainly where a signal from all four operators is not currently received.
We are exploring some of the technological, practical and economic barriers which will hold back the roll out of neutral host systems to help DCMS understand what needs to change to encourage operators and others to adopt and deploy neutral host technology more quickly, especially in very rural areas.