Bigger and taller masts lined up to improve rural phone signal

The £30 million competition will see up to ten rural locations chosen to run trials of 5G-related technology Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

New phone masts which are bigger and taller could be built across the British countryside in a bid to improve rural phone signal and 5G connectivity.

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan says she has plans to shake up planning restrictions and allow mobile phone networks build masts exceeding the current rules of 25 metres.

It comes as the Government launched a competition for rural areas which would see them host tests of groundbreaking 5G applications, as part of plans to spark a wider roll-out of the communications technology.

“To give such a proposal the best chance of success we need to make it easier for industry to build, share and upgrade mobile infrastructure," Ms Morgan wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

“This means planning rules will be relaxed to enable existing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast-sharing.”

Nicky Morgan said she wants to find the right balance between protecting the countryside and improving signal. Credit: PA

The plans also include firms investing in shared masts, allowing phone users to switch between providers to find the best signal.

She stressed the need to “get the balance right” between preserving the “sacrosanct” countryside and improving connectivity.

Former prime minister David Cameron previously complained about rural mobile phone coverage, and claimed he cut short family holidays in Cornwall as he was unable to keep in touch with world leaders.

The £30 million 5G competition will see up to 10 rural locations chosen to run trials of 5G-related technology, which would involve superfast 5G test networks being set up.

A £30 million competition will see 10 rural locations chosen to run trials of the technology. Credit: PA

Ms Morgan said: “The British countryside has always been a hotbed of pioneering industries and we’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age.

“We’re investing millions so the whole country can grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next-generation 5G technology.

“In modern Britain, people expect to be connected wherever they are."However Labour said the funding into 5G technology falls short of what is needed to boost digital infrastructure nationwide."

Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said: "5G and full fibre will be the basis of the innovative, green technologies that will underpin our future economy, but the UK’s digital infrastructure is lagging embarrassingly behind.

"This Government must take bolder, faster action to deliver the digital infrastructure we need."

5G technology could be up to 10 times faster than 4G. Credit: PA
  • What is 5G?

5G is the next generation of wireless mobile connections, following on from the 4G networks currently used by smartphones across the globe.

As the name suggests, this is the fifth generation of the network technology.

  • How fast will 5G be?

There is no official speed standard for 5G, but many experts expect it to be up to 10 times faster than 4G – and therefore potentially faster than home fibre broadband.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at, said: “Where you’ll see a real difference with 5G is in the speeds you can download Ultra HD and 3D video.

"At 5G’s theoretical top speed, you could download an entire 25GB Ultra HD movie in about 20 seconds.”

EE was the first to launch 5G network in the UK. Credit: PA
  • When is 5G launching in the UK?

EE was first to launch its 5G network – at the end of May – in six cities: London, Cardiff, Belfast, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester, with more to follow before the end of the year and into 2020.

Vodafone switched on 5G in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London on July 3.

Three began turning on its 5G network in August, while O2 said it will also launch at some point this year.

However, the process will be a gradual roll-out, meaning 5G will not be widely available everywhere for some years to come.

The countryside is notorious for signal blind spots. Credit: PA

How much will 5G cost?

So far, pricing of 5G plans has varied across networks, with prices higher than 4G on some networks given that it is a new technology.

For example, EE offers a sim-only plan with 20GB of 5G data for £32 a month, while 50GB of 4G data costs £24 a month.

However, Vodafone has priced its own 5G plans at the same rates as its existing 4G offerings.

But experts have noted that, as we saw with 4G’s maturation, prices are likely to fall as 5G becomes more widely available in the years to come.