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You need to get serious about 4G coverage, Ministry of Fun told

One database to rule them all?

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The Ministry of Fun should set up a national planning database, allowing network operators to instantly check zoning restrictions if it's serious about promoting 4G technology.

The call comes from Actix, in response to the ministry's consultation on the matter, which closes in two weeks. Actix spends most of its time monitoring live networks, so it knows a lot about customers leaving coverage, and reckons a national database will be necessary to reduce such disconnections.

"Where DCMS [Department of Culture, Media & Sport, aka Fun] can make a considerable difference is by supporting the provision of a dedicated, centralised planning database" explains the company, going beyond the consultation questions.

"Open access to zoned planning regulations ... would help accelerate network planning and resolve connection issues."

The idea, as envisioned by Actix, would meld the results of their analysis with live planning maps. That would let an operator plot last week's disconnections on a map, and overlay the planning regulations to see where a new mast could fit between the heritage and sites of scientific interest.

Such maps are already available from local authorities, in piecemeal form, but Actix reckons a single national source would enable them (and their competitors, naturally) integrate the process to speed up deployments and get 4G coverage quicker.

The Ministry of Fun's proposals already suggest sites should be able to scale up without further planning permission, and that tiny sites (less than half a square meter, usually bolted flat to a wall) could be deployed within protected areas with prior approval, but with 4G expected to need 7,000 new sites, that might not be enough.

Getting past the NIMBYs is always a challenge for mobile operators, facing customers who want coverage but don't want to see it built. Between 2008 and 2012, 28 per cent of planning applications for masts were refused, compared to a refusal rate of 15 per cent for comparable applications without the unsightly things.

The consultation dismisses health concerns, quoting the Stewart report from 2000, which concluded that living near a base station wasn't a risk to health. The quote left out the bit about maintaining an open database of sites to ensure any effect could be swiftly identified. That's probably because the UK's biggest network operator is refusing to share the data in a legal challenge (backed by Ofcom!) currently crawling though the European courts.

Without Sitefinder, and with base stations so well hidden, we'll probably never know exactly how our 4G coverage is achieved, we'll just be grateful that YouTube loads faster and we're never left without Twitter. ®

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