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The solution to 4G coverage in Norfolk? Fire towers and wind turbines could be “opened up” to mobile providers

PUBLISHED: 16:54 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:54 22 January 2018

Wind turbines could be used by mobile providers to boost 4G coverage in Norfolk.   View of the Kessingland turbines from the nearby village of Henstead.  Picture: James Bass

Wind turbines could be used by mobile providers to boost 4G coverage in Norfolk. View of the Kessingland turbines from the nearby village of Henstead. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

Fire towers, wind turbines and street lights could be offered up to mobile phone companies to fill in the “not-spot” gaps in 4G coverage across Norfolk.

Geoff Connell, head of information management and technology at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Bethany WhymarkGeoff Connell, head of information management and technology at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Representatives of the main mobile providers - Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three - attended the digital innovation and efficiency committee at Norfolk County Council (NCC) today to find a solution to poor coverage in the region.

According to the mobile providers, connectivity roll-out has stalled as applications for masts have routinely been rejected. To loosen the deadlock, NCC has identified structures they own which could be “opened up” to help boost connectivity.

“We found 500 of our structures including county sites, fire, police and others which we think are broadly suitable,” said Geoff Connell, chief information officer at NCC. “ 200 of those are particularly suitable including fire towers and wind turbines.

“We have found not spots and there are opportunities to put our buildings in to help.”

A survey has also been commissioned to scour the county - including all A and B roads, tourist routes and coastal paths to identify areas of greatest need. With Norfolk’s PFI street lighting contract set to roll out upgrades in the county, further opportunities will emerge, added Mr Connell.

“As they are replaced with new types of lighting we are going to go smart and we could look at those to be used for connectivity as well,” he said.

Graham Dunne, from Vodafone, said: “I am really impressed about opening up public sector assets. Having access to county land could tip [a project] into being viable when previously it would not have been.”

Gareth Elliot, from Mobile UK, added: “We are moving from a regulatory and policy environment which treats mobile as a luxury. Society has moved forward so that it is a necessity and part of a critical infrastructure.

“The problems we have at the moment are access to sites. As a county council there is a real opportunity in terms of using your influence with better practice and guidance across planning authorities.

“We are starting to see a real problem in terms of the quality of planners, with people leaving with institutional knowledge.”

The committee agreed to further explore options to improve mobile voice and data coverage in Norfolk.

Target of 98pc outdoor coverage

The EDP has been campaigning for years to improve mobile data coverage in Norfolk, which lags behind neighbouring counties.

Our survey of 1,300 readers in October last year showed poor coverage had caused 86pc of people problems, with 40pc rating their coverage as one out of 10.

Since then more phone masts have been built in Norfolk and Suffolk and 4G signal, which allows users to use the internet on their phones, is improving.

Providers have promised near-total coverage in the not too distant future. Senior manager of mobile phone networks at Vodafone, Dr Rob Matthews, said in November that 98pc of Norfolk’s population should have 4G coverage outdoors within the next 18 months.

Nova Fairbank, Public Affairs Manager for Norfolk Chamber of Commerce said: “If we want to be seen as a place to do business and be able to compete at a national and international level, we need more investment in Norfolk’s mobile signal infrastructure and a better service from the mobile providers, including roaming signals.”

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