back to article Gov to spread mobile masts to remote corners of Blighty

The UK's Chancellor has confirmed that the government will sink £150m into buying up cell sites with the intention of extending rural coverage to 99 per cent of the population. Ofcom will advise the government on how it should go about spending our cash on sites for base stations to be utilised by multiple operators, with the …

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It will be a bargin if it works and if it comes in on anything like budget. However if it's so cheap why doesn't one of the current players do it? And why hasn't Ofcom already gotten the networks to provide this level of coverage?

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I CHOOSE to enoble a simple forum post!

I suspect its because the government can compel people to sell them the sites whereas your friendly neighbourhood telco would probably have to pay over the odds because farmer giles would see it as an opportunity to raise eom much needed hard cash.

NB this is in no way a criticsm of farmer Giles, I think pretty much any of us would milk a private firm for as much as we could get away with.

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The tone in your article is that you feel this should not be happening. But the first thing that came into my head was, hey this can help save lives and make things easier for people.

If the stations stay owned and rented out then the money will continue to come back in, so it is not lost. Unlike giving money to BT to wire up already well connected places and once again not wiring everywhere up with what a lot of people now call an essential service.

To be honest you sound like someone that thinks technology only belongs in towns and cities.

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Go

Indeed

Expect a myriad of arguments along the lines of:

"but that could pay for x hospital beds" as if it were an either/or situation

"it's taxpayer's money" as if only taxpayers should be able to dictate how public funds are spent (remember, not everyone is a taxpayer, and people pay vastly differing amounts).

"we're subsidising private companies" as if sane people would expect private companies to invest in something that won't see them make a return on that investment.

Let's face it - if the individual got to decide where money was spent, it would only be spent putting public services outside their own front door. A core part of any governing body is to ensure the needs of the minority are met in the face of the feelings of the majority.

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There are many different ways £150M could be used to save lives and make things easier for people.

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@Just Thinking

And if you're out in the middle of nowhere and need to call for help, would you suddenly decide that that £150m was money well spent...?

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I just don't see why the taxpayer has to pay for this. It should have been a legal requirement for the phone companies to provide 100% (ish) coverage, not just cherry pick.

The companies might well have decided to share masts in the most remote areas (as is proposed here). Perhaps they would consequently have decided to share masts in some not so remote areas too.

Result would have been full coverage without any extra masts (just some of them moved around and shared) no cost to anybody.

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WTF?

@Just Thinking

*Why* should it be a "legal requirement for the phone companies to provide 100% coverage"? That's like saying it should be a "legal requirement" for Company X to have a store in my town!

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Company X having a store in your town is convenience. You can buy the same shit from Company Y, or drive out to town B which has an X store.

Mobile coverage is infrastructure. Only a few providers are in a position to do it, and crucially they need permission to put their masts all over the place to do it, and equally crucially once we give them permission everybody else is locked out.

As such, they have an obligation.

If you give such permissions to a phone company, shouldn't you ask them to to organise themselves to cover rural areas rather than expecting tax payers to bail them out?

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@Just Thinking

There are some things that should not, in any civilised society,* be run by private enterprise. Power supplies (both gas and electric), health and social care, transport infrastructure, and communications infrastructure are the four most obvious ones.** They are all too important to the health and wellbeing of society, and therefore need to be controlled by the government for the good of all. Private enterprise does not, and never will, have the good of society at the top of its list of priorities, because it needs to make a profit.

*Yes, by the argument I am putting forward, I am claiming that the UK was civilised, but isn't any longer.

**There are more, but it isn't my necessary to go into them to illustrate my point.

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Odd that you omit food production and housing from that list of things that are important to the health and well-being of society, even allowing for your footnote. I'd rate both as significantly more important than mobile phone coverage.

Less odd once you realise that the entire argument is bogus. Things that are essential to the well-being of society need to be *regulated*, but the ownership is irrelevant.

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Boffin

@Just Thinking

And, just the same, having mobile phone coverage is a convenience. You can go to somewhere where there is a landline or payphone if you want to call someone, there is no obligation for anyone to supply a signal for your convenience.

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Stop

Why so expensive? Why so cheap? Why pay at all?

Couple of points or three:

1) I thought we already had c. 99% pop coverage for 2G. It's the geographic coverage (i.e. for the sheep) that's much less than that. So why is the government spending any money at all.

2) A typical site cost around £100k to build from scratch, so that's an extra 1500 new sites, or a generous 3000 sites if they do it on the cheap. Estimates for >95% pop coverage for 3G go from 5000 to 15000 new sites (or reuse of 2G sites) depending on who is selling or buying, so 3000 sites just aren't enough to extend rural 3G coverage.

3) Why should the public purse subsidise the mobile operators who make billions? Perhaps a quick investigation into MTR and profiteering closely followed by a discussion on 'public service duty for rural areas' might make the MNOs sit up and 'do the right thing' all by themselves.

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ql
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Re: Couple of points or three:

I live in a very sparsely populated rural area, popular as a tourist destination, where coverage is extremely patchy. It's no problem for me at all, though coverage from where I live would be a nice-to-have. However, tourists in the area are the ones who miss universal coverage the most, and who expect there to be coverage. So basing ideas of adequacy on percentage of population misses the point. It's not us rural people clamouring for this service - it's you city slickers who feel their human rights have been breached if "no service" flashed up.

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Why should we spend money for anything.

99% of the population live and work in perhaps 30% of the land area, the gaps in between are called the countryside, through which we travel for a variety of reasons. When we travel through it we expect to have all sorts of services available to us, collapse walking in the highlands, and we expect a helicopter to come and rescue us, crash the car on the road to Ullapool and I suspect we'd expect a mobile phone to call the police and ambulance.

Commercial organisations could spend their money providing a low return service, but I suspect the shareholders might object and suggest they invest money elsewhere. The government however has a duty to provide services to all its tax paying citizens, regardless of where they live, including shepards, who put Lamb on your table. That investment for the government might well save the state money in the long run, and enable development in remote rural areas, something that telcos aren't interested in.

Alternatively we could only supply services only to the 99% of the population who are cheap to service, but don't go on holiday to the highlands, or expect anyone to live there.

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Nev
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WTF?

Vodafone (et al) don't make enough profits...

... or evade paying enough taxes to cover this then?

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A bargain

I can't judge the tone of this article. Given the amounts of money regularly pissed up against the wall by governments for all sorts of crap ideas, I'd say that £150m to have *some* sort of wireless coverage for *all* points of the UK would be a bargain.

That said, what's on offer here is only 99% and I suspect that each additional "9" you want to put on that figure will cost another £150m (at least).

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...and we can even afford it

And as luck would have it, a couple of hours later we are gifted this...

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/10/04/csc_returns_170m/

...as proof that projects of this nature can be financed by the small change on government waste.

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My impression was that these days, when a cell site amounts to a cabinet and a Jaybean mast the diameter of a streetlamp, all put up under 'permitted development' powers, the cost of the site was little more than the cost of hardware. And a cell site is like any other capital spend - will it recover its costs over its life.

Presumably what Arqiva or whoever lands the contract will do is identify a site which makes some sense from the radio planning perspective, negotiate with the owner, provide some hard standing and power and possibly some backhaul. These will save the network a bit, but the fact remains that the income potential from data and call charges plus dwindling termination charges, plus an unquantifiable 'good coverage premium', are still likely to leave these areas uneconomic. A few Facebook updates from hillwalkers reaching a summit will not justify much base station hardware.

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Alien

I probably still won't be able to get a signal on the A169 at Saltersgate. I wonder why... ;)

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FAIL

Really?

We Canadians have lakes bigger than the entire UK. I can get a signal from coast to coast. Hell, I drove 150 km from the nearest town, with literally nothing but trees in sight, and my cell phone still worked. How hard could it be to get a signal to all of the UK?

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Similar experience in Iceland

Iceland is a country roughly the size of England, with a population of around 300,000.

I found it very hard to not get at least a 5 bar Edge signal from Vodaphone even when I was 100 miles from the nearest shop or 50 miles from the nearest paved road!

How do they do it? I saw 'phone aerials on buildings in towns, but never noticed any towers in rural areas.

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Windows

Canadians???

"We Canadians have lakes bigger than the entire UK".

Don't you share a couple of the big ones with the USA?

In Finland, we have >150,000 lakes. But, they propagate the signal. My phone never, ever drops a call (unless the battery runs out).

I guess that's why Nokia came up with the mobile. Pity they're about to down with it, on a burning platform.. ;-)

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Windows

Downvoted? Seriously?

OK, El Reg. should do what I do, and ignore downvoters who are too cowardly as to not give a reason for the downvote.

Ta muchly.

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Having spent a cold wet summer holiday in rural parts, I definitely think this is a good thing. Even the city folk venture out to rural parts from time to time.

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This spells the end for bees, doesn't it?

We've hounded them out of towns. Now we're hounding them out of the countryside.

Hooray for us!

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Depends which theory you subscribe too, but one factor is certainly that bees need a variety of plants (flowering at different times of the year) within a few hundred yards of the hive to have any chance at all.

If we insist on covering vast areas of the countryside with a single crop which only provides bee food for two weeks of the year, maybe the gardens and allotments of towns are the only hope.

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Windows

And we hounded one Bee...

...out of El. Reg.

Nice to not feel the sharp edge of her tongue (or keyboard) when I got it wrong.

Seriously, I hope she (Sarah Bee) is doing well. Good Moderatrix, and good writer.

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OK, I get really upset with this whole "covering n% of the population" because what it really means is "covering the home addresses of n% of the population" and although that is fine for fixed-line systems, the whole point of mobiles is to be able to use them _away from home_.

You may be hoping to be able to "...stay connected to Twitter from the mountains of the Highlands through the Lakes and down to the coastline of Cornwall..." but those are the sort of places that get excluded as only a very few people live there.

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Windows

H^HCrook up the shepherds?

Or the sheeple? (I can say it, now Sarah's gone. She hated it)

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Good news for emergency calls

Useful for emergencies. There are large parts of Scotland with no coverage. If an accident happens then at the moment the victims just have to hope that someone else comes by before it is too late.

For a number of people this development will save them from death or permanent injury.

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I once wrote ...

... a Public Law exam question based on that very premise! I'm now working on a paper regarding the duty of government to ensure adequate communications for emergencies (including keeping analogue local and national broadcasting).

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OK, bit expensive but could kick start some decent mobile start ups and give extra coverage for tourists, local business and consumers alike.

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Living in a very large not spot.

The major wish for most people here is to have the major routes covered so that if you break down or have an accident you can ring for help otherwise you can be waiting for a very long time for someone to come past and give you a hand.

Of course, if Ofcom forced the operators in the UK to implement the emergency call requirements from the GSM standard (i.e. if you need to make an emergency call you can use any available network not just the one you've subscribed to) then you'd reduce the need for masts across the UK.

The most vocal voices wanting better data coverage are the emergency services not the general populace - these are the people who are saying that lack of 3g and data is a major problem when an emergency happens.

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Meh

But this is dreamt up by the coalition! Aren't they just going to give it to their tax dodging mates to run and rent out once its set up?

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@Just Thinking

The nice thing about cherry picking profitable areas is that it lets you have a choice of companies that can make money in niche. If they were required to service 100% of the country then only a single big player could afford to do that and you would have a choice of BT or BT.

It's the reason government IT contracts always go to the same few companies - the contract always requires them to supply everything from the desktop to the WAN infrastructure - and so gives it on a plate to IBM and co.

.

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Anonymous Coward

Humans treat lack of signal as network damage

and route behaviour around it.

Governments wanting to track people however, regard it as a failure.

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