Plans to boost mobile coverage in one of Wales’ worst-served areas
The Shared Rural Network is set to improve 4G coverage in one Welsh county to address the urban-rural divide so that customers from all mobile networks benefit.
The demand for faster internet speeds and better connectivity shows no signs of slowing, with Carmarthenshire residents increasingly reliant on digital infrastructure for both work and everyday life.
Despite the requirement for mobile connectivity as a daily necessity, the urban-rural digital divide still poses a challenge locally, however there are plans in the pipeline for this to be addressed.
The Shared Rural Network (SRN) is a collaboration of Mobile Network Operators and UK Government initiatives, working together to improve 4G mobile coverage for communities in poorly served rural areas across the region. The SRN is one of the many projects being delivered across Carmarthenshire as well as Pembrokeshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot as part of the Swansea Bay City Deal’s Digital Infrastructure Programme.
The combined initiative is set to bring an improved infrastructure that will deliver reliable 4G coverage, allowing rural businesses to prosper, providing a lifeline to emergency services as well as the many social benefits that are often lacking in harder to reach areas.
Of the 26 sites planned for Carmarthenshire, 14 new sites have now received planning permission and will be built in the first half of 2024. This includes two sites in areas which currently have no coverage at all, bringing an additional estimated £7million inward investment. This will overhaul the ‘not spots’ in Carmarthenshire, opening more online health services, more reliable access to emergency services, along with boosting the tourism and agriculture industries.
Commenting on the site plans, Cllr Hazel Evans, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Leisure, Culture and Tourism said: “This is a welcomed step for Carmarthenshire, at a time when becoming digitally equipped has never been so important.
“As a society, our use of the internet is continuously increasing, so having the right infrastructure in place to allow rural communities to thrive both economically and socially is a must. I am confident that these plans will safeguard the future connectivity of the county and strengthen our position across our key industry sectors.”
The environmental impact has also been carefully considered, with mobile operators sharing masts for the first time, meaning a move away from singular masts for individual services providers.
This step aims to keep the footprint on Wales’ local environments to a minimum, whilst allowing customers from all networks to benefit. Added to this, all implemented infrastructure complies with the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), ensuring that all welfare and safety standards are adhered to.
Many more existing sites will be upgraded to allow this shared hosting and in addition to the fourteen new planned sites, a further seven more will be put forward to enter the planning process in 2024. This means a substantial levelling up of the digital divide in Carmarthenshire, allowing a larger proportion of local communities to connect to superfast broadband where fibre broadband is not yet available.
Carmarthenshire has significantly larger rural areas than other counties in the Swansea Bay City Deal region but adding to that, the topology of the land means that adding new infrastructure can add numerous complexities to what are already difficult projects. Considering those factors, the SRN investment is a substantial gain for the county, with an expected uplift to 99% mobile coverage on completion.
Cornerstone, who are acquiring planning permission and building the telecommunication sites on behalf of the Shared Rural Network, have worked closely with Carmarthenshire Couy Council.
Cornerstone’s Director of Property and Estates and General Counsel Belinda Fawcett noted: “As part of the UK Government’s multi-million-pound Shared Rural Network project we continue to develop our network of base stations to ensure the infrastructure needed by the mobile operators to improve connectivity in rural areas is available.
“Carmarthenshire Council has worked closely with us and provided essential feedback that has allowed us to understand local concerns and address these in the initial stages of our proposals.”
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