What it takes to build a mobile mast

People expect to make calls, send texts and emails, and browse the internet from their mobile phone. So what does it take to deliver a mobile service?

People expect to seamlessly make calls, send texts and emails, and browse the internet from their mobile phone. Rarely do they think about what goes on in the background to make this happen, but the reality is, it’s quite a task to pull together all the factors to provide a mobile phone service. And when you have to deliver a mobile service in a rural area where there is no reception, the task becomes increasingly more complex!

Arqiva has experienced this as it has progressed with the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) – a government initiative to bring 4G mobile coverage, to premises in rural areas across the UK that previously had no mobile coverage at all.

So what goes on behind the scene to deliver a mobile service in a rural area?

Once a mobile not spot has been identified, radio and transmission plans have to be drawn up to determine whether the MNOs have the transmission capacity to provide 4G high speed data services to and from the not spot; if they have, then the search begins to identify a suitable site to build a mobile mast.

A suitable site must be able to accommodate a tower, usually between 20 and 30m high with the respective landowner being willing to make the site available for 20 years. How much it will cost to run the site must be thought through too. For example, the need for lengthy new power routes will often eliminate a site option due to capital expenditure constraints. The on-going operational cost for the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), in what for them are previously un-economic areas to build sites, must also be carefully controlled by keeping site rental lower than would normally be considered for a commercial network roll out.

Once a potential site that ticks the initial boxes has been identified, the acquisition of it involves many stages. You have to liaise with various local council and stakeholders during the planning pre-consultation stage, as well as co-ordinate between multiple MNOs, provide detailed iterative designs and plans to the stakeholders (which often require verification), and then complete the necessary legal paperwork, to be granted the necessary permission to access and build on the site.

The biggest challenge during the application process is convincing local residents of the benefits that a mobile mast will bring to their community, especially if it is in an Area of Outstanding National Beauty.

So, consultation and engagement is vital to convince the local community about the economic, social, and safety benefits. Ofcom has confirmed that two-thirds of emergency service calls are made on mobile phones, so it’s important to educate residents about how a mobile mast can change lives.

When the planning application has been approved and the site secured to build on, you frequently have to secure multi-party wayleaves to ensure you can run a power supply to the site, which can take time. As well as erecting the mast and installing MNO equipment, the site also has to be physically linked to all four MNOs existing networks. 

Once the mobile mast is live, residents can then begin to enjoy the benefits of mobile phone coverage.