Opening street furniture: another option for small cell cost-sharing

via Flickr © Shardayyy (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Shardayyy (CC BY 2.0)

  • The UK’s current concessions model for small cell siting, is a barrier to 4G and future 5G investments
  • An alternative ‘open access’ model will hand back street furniture to local authorities
  • That should encourage further investment in 4G and 5G mobile services

BT is calling for an end to the current ‘exclusive concessions’ infrastructure deployment model in UK cities which, it says, grants a single operator access to council owned ‘street furniture’ for siting telecoms equipment - lamp posts, CCTV columns and anything sticking up and capable of supporting a small cell.

Instead of this ‘exclusive concession model’ BT is proposing an ‘open Access Model’ which it claims will help speed further 4G small cell deployments, setting the scene for 5G to be added in to the small cell scenario in built-up areas.

To kick off the enthusiasm, BT has said it’s willing to sacrifice it’s own exclusivity arrangements to get the ball rolling. It says it will be holding a workshop next month with local authorities and UK mobile operators to discuss the possibilities.

BT says that under the current concessions model, other mobile operators who wish to access the same physical infrastructure to locate their small cells equipment currently need to pay a wholesale charge to the provider that has an exclusive agreement in place with the local authority.

In other words the concession holder has the whip hand and can, if moved, make things difficult for its competitors. This, claims BT, has the effect of driving up costs and generally dampening enthusiasm for mobile infrastructure investment.

Thousands more small cells are expected to be required to service 5G and this sort of infrastructure sharing (which is what it amounts to) needs to be done fairly to get the cost of 4G and 5G deployment down.

In any case, BT believes that the Electronic Communications Code, in force since December 2017, already makes such exclusivity agreements void.

Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy, BT Group, said: “While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010’s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments. Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act.”

BT currently operates street furniture concessions across nine local authorities and is proposing to end its exclusive agreements to encourage other local authorities and the wider industry to adopt an alternative ‘open access’ model, it says. Such an approach would allow all mobile operators to access street furniture on an open, equivalent basis, by paying a low-cost flat fee to the local authority.

Will everyone be happy? “It’s a move that may irk some competitors, especially if they’ve put time and effort into getting exclusive arrangements,” says Andrew Collinson, Partner & Research Director at telecoms specialist, STL Partners. “But really, this sort of thing is inevitable. The desirability of sharing involves a fine balancing act, but in general operators will want to do more of it and there is a no way of doing that without regulatory change.”

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