Telecoms tower rent stalemate could delay 5G rollout, law firm warns

James Warrington
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Mobile providers and tower site landlords are locked in bitter disputes over rent leves (Source: Getty)

The rollout of 5G in the UK could be delayed by a stalemate between network operators and landlords over rent reductions, according to law firm EMW.

Mobile providers and tower site landlords are locked in bitter disputes over the level of rent to be paid on telecoms tower sites, leaving the market “polarised”, the company said.

The stalemate means the two parties are not reaching the commercial agreements needed to build and upgrade the infrastructure for high-speed 5G networks.

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Under a new code brought in by the government in 2017, rents for the sites will be pinned to the value of the land to a landlord, rather than to its value to the network operator.

As a result, rent values for proposed and existing mast sites are likely to be lower.

Victoria Dobson, legal director at EMW, said: “The new code has had the effect of initially creating a stalemate between network operators and landlords.

“If the position of the network operators and of the landlords do not meet somewhere in the middle quite soon such polarisation in the market may impact the rollout of 5G.”

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New 5G technology is expected to bring significantly faster download speeds to meet growing consumer demand for mobile data.

Network operators are trialling the technology across the UK, with plans to roll out 5G in selected areas this year.

A spokesperson for Mobile UK, the trade body for mobile operators, said: “While there has been some inevitable uncertainty - and even misunderstanding - about how the new process works, progress is being made.

“Agreements are now being concluded on mutually agreed terms but there is, nevertheless, more to do to make it work effectively to the benefit of UK consumers.”

In a report published in November the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it will invest £6.8bn in broadband and 5G infrastructure before 2021, and reiterated its plan to deploy the high-speed mobile technology across the majority of the country by 2027.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “Progress is being made, and decisions from the tribunal on valuation that are expected shortly will help settle the market and allow negotiations to progress more smoothly.”