Insight into the Mobile Infrastructure Project

Delivering large and complex mobile infrastructure projects is what we're good at.

Thanks to our expertise we were awarded the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) in May 2013. The Mobile Infrastructure Project was initiated to bring 4G mobile coverage, to premises across the UK that previously had no mobile coverage at all.

We caught up with Paul Stonadge, Director Product & Technology, Mobile to learn more about it.

What’s the status of the Mobile Infrastructure Project?

The MIP will end in March 2016 at the end of the UK financial year. The Culture Secretary has publically stated that the project will deliver 40 masts, bringing 4G coverage to premises that previously had no mobile coverage. Arqiva is confident that we will exceed this number as we have made good progress in getting sites into the build phase over the past few weeks.

What milestones has Arqiva achieved?

In the first year, Not-Spot data was validated and Radio and Transmission plans completed. Since then, we have surveyed more than 500 locations as potential sites for masts; and as at August ’15 we had moved into the site acquisition phase on more than 200 locations, of which, 127 Planning Applications have been submitted to Local Planning Authorities. As at early-October, Arqiva has 41 sites in the build phase. The current objective is to achieve as many planning consents and legal completions as possible by the end of October, to allow time to get them on air by the end of the project in March 2016.

How is the Mobile Infrastructure Project funded?

The DCMS has funded both the sites constructed by Arqiva and the radio and transmission equipment used by the MNOs. The contract is structured so that the Government only pays Arqiva for work once completed, with the bulk of the payment issued in the final build phase of each individual mast project.

What is Arqiva most proud of?

We’re most proud that the project is the first of its kind in Europe. To extend 4G coverage to remote and rural coverage Not Spots is a complex task that requires technical innovation, a pioneering attitude, time and tenacity. Throughout this project, Arqiva has learned many lessons that can be shared with the industry and can be used as a blue print for best practice in rolling out such challenging projects.

You mentioned innovation. Can you give some examples?

Arqiva has used a number of innovative and new methods and technologies to design, verify and deliver mobile mast sites. For example, it has used helicopter-based laser and high resolution photographic surveying to confirm the Line of Sight (LoS) transmission connections, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to take panoramic pictures at antenna heights, which prevents the need for accessing the candidate location with a more traditional ‘pump-up’ mast. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?

MIP has been about securing the right sites, at the right price, for the public purse. Due to the rural and remote location of the sites, there have been significant challenges in validating MNOs transmission capacity at a large number of sites, thus limiting the number of achievable site options. Also, local communities have an important part to play in supporting sites being built in their areas, and getting their approval for the build of a tall mast that reaches 25 to 30 metres can be an extremely challenging task.

That said, we have successfully worked with communities and planning authorities to make the case for MIP in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or where the visual impact of a mast is of concern. We have undertaken significant engagement with local communities and parish councils at the pre-planning stage. In fact, we have been praised by multiple stakeholders for our ability to achieve planning consents at the speed we have.

In the coming months we’ll provide an update on how the Mobile Infrastructure Project is developing. Connecting people for an enriched and safer life is at the heart of what Arqiva does; and this project will not only bring 4G coverage to rural parts of the UK, but it will help to drive the economy in local communities, as well as helping out the emergency services – and this is what we are proud of.