Headlines about 5G are never very far away and, behind the hype, several organisations are steadily working on making the deployment of this new technology much easier.

Last week’s announcement from the European Commission about adopting Implementing Regulation to pave the way for high capacity 5G network infrastructure made interesting reading. The thrust of the regulation is to remove further barriers to the rollout of small cells. If the solution is below a certain volume in size and meets the relevant power standards, the proposal is to fast-track the current planning processes.

Fast forward UK

Small cells in the UK are frequently classed by local councils as ‘de-minimis’, meaning that extended planning procedures can be avoided or at least fast-tracked. However, each local authority has different views on de-minimis requirements – some authorities being very pro-pole solutions, others favouring street cabinets. The European Union directive is generic, but its ambition is in the right direction.

Further work is required in the UK, as there are layers of stakeholders involved, but this initiative should be considered as another ‘barrier buster’.

Small cells matter

Cellular data growth has been unprecedented over the past decade – meaning more and more cell sites are required. The challenge is that rooftop space is at a premium in very dense metropolitan areas.

One solution, that all network operators are actively exploring, is the deployment of small cell networks. Small cells are not new and are a critical part of most mobile networks, particularly in urban centres. They are smaller radio antennas, closer to the ground, closer to the customers, and where the real demand is. Often unobtrusively located on building walls, street light columns, and other assets, they can be a real game changer to provide additional cellular capacity where it is needed.

Furthermore, demand accelerates when 5G is deployed – as typically the frequency bands are higher, making it a harder technology to serve from distant rooftop macro cellular sites.

Infrastructure investment and the neutral host

Recent government announcements point to a renewed focus in infrastructure investment. As society gradually returns to ‘normality’, we will see the return of high data volumes in our key urban cities. London as a ‘Global City’, will see that demand rise. ‘Global Cities’ are ranked by many different measures (one well-known is the AT Kearney Global Cities Report) which all consistently point to cities that are interconnected, a hub for jobs, excellent transport systems, and an engine for growth.

This is where neutral host networks (NHNs) can play a key role. NHNs with access to both physical assets (such as street furniture and poles) and backhaul transmission, can provide a service for multiple MNOs, as well as stakeholders requiring IoT and smart city services.

This is one of several important topics to be discussed over the coming months in my role as Chair of techUK’s Communication Infrastructure Council, the outcomes of which I will be sharing here.