Working together to connect Wales

By Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer at O2

Of all the ingredients that keep our economy and society moving, mobile is arguably top of the list. Digital connectivity is fundamental to the ongoing attractiveness of North Wales with respect to remaining a tourist venue, delivering public services and encouraging business to set up and grow. Businesses and communities from across Wales are backing the Daily Post’s Better Mobile campaign because they recognise they can’t compete without it.  So, while the Welsh Mobile Action Plan recognises that government, local councils, businesses and mobile operators must all collaborate it is only a step in the right direction. We also need to hear from the silent majority who want better mobile connectivity to deliver what North Wales needs and deserves.

We know the difference that a good mobile connection can make. Until recently, residents in one of Wales’s most remote villages, Staylittle, were forced to stay indoors to make and receive phone calls and had to resort to expensive, patchy satellite home internet to get online. In May, O2 installed a permanent 4G mobile mast which provides full 2G, 3G and 4G coverage to the entire village. Residents can now make calls, connect online with their family and friends, run their businesses on the move – all the things that many parts of the UK take for granted.

However there are still too many communities in Wales that find themselves in connectivity black spots due, in part, to such planning limitations.  A change of pace is needed.  In England and Scotland, permitted development rights require a maximum of 56 days to gain permission for a 25-metre mast, bringing the connectivity rural communities need. Equivalent Welsh law will only allow a 15-metre mast to be approved in the same period, while a 17-metre mast requires full planning permission which takes six months or more.  A collective effort from the telecoms industry, councils, land owners, government and regulators is what’s required to act on the public demand for mobile connectivity.

We continue to work tirelessly to upgrade existing sites and build new ones across North Wales.  But while we are making good progress in connecting Powys and Snowdonia, we have found well considered mast proposals, which take local concerns into account, are still getting rejected or delayed.  This was recently the case in Penygroes where a well thought through bid for a shared mast between O2 and Vodafone was unanimously rejected by the planning committee on health grounds, a consideration not under their jurisdiction in current guidelines.

At O2, we know that a reliable mobile connection means businesses and communities can flourish, doing the things they want to do whenever and wherever they like. That’s why we invest more than £2 million every day towards improving our network infrastructure throughout the UK. By working together to accelerate the rollout of digital infrastructure, we can meet the demands of the Daily Post’s Better Mobile campaign, encourage economic prosperity and prepare Wales – its households and its businesses – for the digital future.

You can read the article on the Daily Post here.