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Network Sharing and Consolidation

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Site Sharing and Radio Access Network (RAN) Sharing

Around two thirds of all mobile phone base stations in use in the UK are located on existing buildings and structures, including buildings, TV and radio transmission towers and existing mobile phone masts. By sharing existing structures, the mobile network operators reduce the need to build new masts on which to locate their equipment.

The way in which the UK’s mobile networks are deployed has changed dramatically in recent years.

Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) is the joint venture management company created by 3UK and T-Mobile (now EE). MBNL is responsible for establishing and managing a new consolidated network of base station sites. Network consolidation involves T-Mobile and 3UK combining their base station sites, hardware and infrastructure to operate a single network. Network Consolidation is a form of RAN (Radio Access Network) Sharing. The result of consolidation is that a significant number of existing T –Mobile & 3UK Sites are being decommissioned. MBNL has now consolidated more than 12,000 sites for T-Mobile and 3UK (December 2010).  As a result of the merger between Orange and T-Mobile in April 2010 further decommissioning is underway.  

O2 and Vodafone established a joint team called Cornerstone in 2009 to share their combined UK masts. This works on a different basis from MBNL, as it is a system through which O2 and Vodafone share the structures on which their radio equipment is sited, rather than sharing the antennas etc. Since then, Cornerstone has been deploying new masts and consolidating the existing networks on behalf of the two mobile network operators. As a result, O2 and Vodafone are working much more closely together on deploying new base stations, increasing the amount of sharing that occurs between the operators. This joint working will result in O2 and Vodafone building fewer new structures on which to site their new base stations.

These changes mean that there are now effectively two, rather than five, organisations planning and building the mobile networks in the UK. This has resulted in a far greater amount of sharing, and an increase in the types of sharing, that occur across the mobile phone networks. Antennas, masts, rooftops and other structures are being shared as never before. These sharing agreements mean that there will ultimately be fewer base station sites across the UK than would otherwise have been the case. The operators will continue to work together as much as possible to try to minimise the number of base station sites.

 

89.9 Million Mobile Subscriptions

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million subscriptions in the UK. In Q1 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phone for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households. Operators are working with Ofcom to extend the benefits of mobile communications as widely as possible; 99.7% of UK premises (homes and businesses) had outdoor 2G coverage from at least one operator; 3G coverage is slightly lower at 99.3% and 4G has reached 89.5%.

Smartphone ownership 

Two thirds of all adults (66%) now own a smartphone, this is on a par with laptop ownership. The proportion of adults that accessed the internet on a mobile handset increased to 61%. Over half of households (54%) had a tablet computer. Twenty eight percent of individuals now own an e-reader.