Tuesday 20 August 2019

Mobile phone operators required to cover more of rural Ireland under new licensing conditions

Denis Naughten, Minister for Communications and Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Denis Naughten, Minister for Communications and Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Mobile phone operators will be required to cover greater parts of rural Ireland under new licensing conditions being considered by the government.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten said that he plans to make Ireland the first European country to base mobile operator licenses on geographical coverage rather than population coverage.

The move means that Vodafone, Three and Meteor will be required to cover more than cities or large towns to be granted new licenses, starting with the upcoming 5G mobile license auction in 2019.

At present, Irish mobile operators' licenses only require them to cover between 70pc and 85pc of the country by population, meaning there is no obligation to extend 3G or 4G services into relatively unpopulated areas of the country or rural roads."We hope to be the first country in Europe to roll out 5G licenses on a geographical basis rather than a population basis," said Mr Naughten. "Based on our dispersed population, we need to do it this way."

He said that 5G licence auctions are expected in Ireland in "late 2019 or early 2020" and that the relevant wireless spectrum for 5G is currently being freed up.

"There are lots of reasons for geographic coverage instead of population coverage. If you take farmers, they need access to services on their phone when out and about. Farming and rural services are changing quickly and we need ubiquitous coverage for that."

"We all talk about driverless cars coming down the line, but you can't have driverless cars without ubiquitous 5G," he said.

However, the new geographic coverage requirements won't be applied to existing licences. Mr Naughten said that the government is launching new initiatives to increase mobile penetration around the country. He said that the use of equipment called 'mobile repeaters', aimed at boosting mobile signals in individual homes, will be allowed from next year.

He also said that some planning and mast-building hurdles for operators are to be minimised, such as development levies collected from mobile operators by local councils. Operators will get also more access to state property for infrastructure. And mobile operators will now report to a joint government task force headed by Minister Naughten and Arts Minister Heather Humphries.

Finally, a national mobile signal map is to be published by Comreg with input from the mobile operators' own data.

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