Examination of Witnesses (Questions 151
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2001
151. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Is it Mr Short
who is going to introduce you?
(Mr Short) I will do a brief introduction if I may.
My name is Mike Short and I am Vice President of the FEI, and
Director of BT Cellnet. On my far right I have Head of Public
Policy, Peter Dunn, from Orange. On my immediate right I have
John May, Radio Networks Director for Vodafone. On my immediate
left I have Richard Rumbelow, Head of Public Policy for Hutchison
3G, and on his left, Paul Innes, Director of Network Build and
Maintenance from One2One. and last, but certainly not least, Mike
Dolan of the FEI who traditionally has been our spokesperson,
but we wanted to all be present to help you today.
152. Thank you very much. We start off with
Stewart and we were wondering what your attitude was to Stewart
and what you think of the Government's response and how you view
that? Is there an industry view?
(Mr Dolan) Thank you, Chairman. On the day the Stewart
Report was published we issued a notice welcoming the Report.
We thought it was a very fair and balanced piece of work, an enormous
amount of work had gone into the research effort, and there were
a good number of useful recommendations. There has of course been
an enormous amount of work done in the intervening period on a
range of fronts and the industry has been working with Government
as well as with other stakeholders to implement many of those
153. One of the things we would like to try
and establish is where do we go from here? How many more of these
masts do you guys require? Have you been able to map out your
expectation of demand and are there blackspots that you have as
yet have been unable to penetrate? What about 3G and the roll
out of that? It would be interesting to get an industry and individual
company view of where we are going.
(Mr Innes) There are a number of questions in there
and I will try and give you a fairly succinct answer that covers
them all. The industry currently has around 22,500 base stations
of one sort or another. That industry figure says a base station
could be co-located amongst industry and shared amongst industry.
There are probably 18,000 sites out there that people recognise
as base stations. Three years from now the industry anticipates
that number will be round 40,000 which nets down to 27,000 base
stations. What does that mean in terms of development? Not all
base stations are built solely for one occupier and we are likely
to see an increase from 6,000 to 9,000 stand-alone new mast sites
as a result of that. Clearly everything we do as an industry is
led by consumer demand for services. We are not building sites
we do not require for servicing customers and growth of services
and the networks may go beyond that. As a window of opportunity
2004 looks like 27,000 radio locations for the industry.
154. On the 3G roll out at one stage it was
suggested that you might not need as many and it now seems you
might need more. Is that because 3G does not penetrate buildings
(Mr Innes) I think it is fair to say that 3G has different
characteristics, potentially, to some of the systems operated
within industry in that we already have conflictsthe existing
cellular systems work at 900 megahertz. The second generation
operators, One2One and Orange, operate only in the 18000 band
width, and they do have different propagation characteristics.
I think the belief within the industry is that 80 per cent of
our existing sites will serve UMTS base station purposes and further
base stations beyond that will be required depending on customers'
demand for service and the locations they require the service.
Substantially it will be demand-led and the vast majority, certainly
of the earlier sites, will be delivered through the existing infrastructure.
155. We were in Finland recently and we visited
Nokia and they suggested that they could in fact do the work with
little micro cells, little boxes maybe 100 metres apart. How do
you view that prospect? Here you are going through all these hoops
and hurdles about masts and base stations and there is an emerging
technology that might change the whole ball-game. Is this something
you view with optimism or do you say that you will believe it
when you see it?
(Mr Short) We know that miniaturisation is occurring
within the total numbers of the ball-game, including the ground-based
masts, the micro cells and the pico cells. Within that miniaturisation
potential we can see a lot of opportunities to look to much smaller,
less significant base stations, (significant in terms of visual
amenity) so the environmental impact and design is coming along.
There are some other technologies coming along which may provide
more choice of competition as well so if what you saw were pico
cells or micro cells we are looking forward to working with companies
like Nokia to bring them about, particularly to help in the growth
of our industry and to serve demand.
156. One of the consequences of devolution is
that we are going to see different Parliaments and Assemblies
approaching this in different ways. Do you think that you really
need to try and get all of the elements across the road, Edinburgh,
Belfast and I am never very sure what powers Wales does and does
not haveand we are not going to get into any Anne Robinson
situationssuffice it to say have you as an industry been
trying to get your act together in order that politicians can
be shepherded in the way that sometimes we need to be to have
a clear way of dealing with this?
(Mr Dunn) It obviously would be much more helpful
to the industry given that we are all licensed for the whole of
the UK to have a single planning guidance, single planning legislation
for the whole of the UK. If that is not possible given the current
state of the regional powers then we think it is very important
that all the regional authorities get together and have a consistent
approach to planning for telecommunications. We are about delivering
services to customers in the UK and building a UK infrastructure
to deliver these services. It would be a real shame if there was
a regional divide because of regional planning legislation.
157. Given the concerns that are around about
health issues associated with antennae and mastsand presumably
some of the micro systems that we were looking at Nokia to which
the Chairman referred utilise far less power than some of the
mastscan you envisage a situation whereby perhaps in urban
areas (where a lot of your business is from clearly as you build
your system) there is a proliferation of these small, low-powered
but close together masts, perhaps moving to a situation where
in more rural areas you tend to have more masts around and greater
coverage? Do you envisage being driven by technology and planning
issues and public concern down that road?
(Mr May) I think the answer is that as the networks
develop for 3G, in the same way they have developed in technological
terms for 2G over a period of five to ten years, there will be
a number of new, enabling technologies in miniaturisation that
will come along and aid us. That goes with the maturity of the
technology and our understanding of how to exploit it. The small
physical installations, as you say, work at much much smaller
powers and therefore have much much shorter ranges and typically
cover a small pedestrian area or the internal part of a building.
So they are part of a portfolio of solutions that we will exploit
as they become available but the miniaturisation of that equipment,
as you will have seen if you have been to Finland, is the sort
of thing being developed by manufacturers for future years.
158. Just one more thing if I can just clarify
it so I have got it clear in my mind. You were talking about the
numbers of masts and bases stations. On the figures we have had
bandied aroundand it is difficult to nail it down as to
whether it is accurate or grossly inaccuratewe would end
up in the United Kingdom with 76,000. This is a ball-park figure.
Can you provide us with a ball-park figure as regards base stations,
masts, antennae, or your best guesstimate as to what you think
the total number of masts is likely to be on current technological
terms? Or is that asking a little bit too much of you?
(Mr Innes) It possibly is not asking too much but
it needs to have a horizon within which we can look at as an industry
which is driven by our forecast of customer use. In that horizon
on what we have defined as a ground based mast those numbers would
be heading towards 9,000 ground based masts in the UK from a position
of around about 6,000 today. That is pure mast terminology. That
is where we struggle in the industry with how the industry uses
terminology, how the Government uses terminology and local authorities
and the community use it. On pure masts, ground based masts, we
envisage them growing from 6,000 to 9,000 in a period of three
to four years.
Mr Laxton: Thanks.
159. This brings me on to the issue of planning
permission. What do you think will be the practical effects of
having to obtain planning permission for all these masts? Will
it add to the timescale? Do you expect to have more turned down?
(Mr Short) Richard, do you want to take that one?
(Mr Rumbelow) Thank you. I think in general terms
if the pendulum of regulation was to swing more towards every
site requiring full planning permission, undoubtedly that would
cause delay in terms of what we have to do as operators to provide
the customers with the service they are looking for. The other
point about full planning is that it is not necessarily the answer
that people are looking for in terms of how to answer that concern.
It will provide, we believe, the opportunity to raise expectations
in their minds providing in their belief a veto over development
which clearly full planning is not there to achieve. Planning
is there to balance the needs of industry and other applicants
against other environmental considerations. In overall terms we
do not feel that full planning is the answer to this particular
situation. It will cause delay, it will cause frustrations to
customers who want the service where they want it and how they
want it. Certainly in terms of meeting the concerns of constituents
where this issue is concerned we think it will provide only further
disenfranchise for them rather than actually answering their questions.