MOBILE PHONE MAST PROJECT STALLS

The mobile phone mast promised for Assington Green, which was going to bring coverage to our notorious local notspot, is not now going to be installed, I have been told.

On the very day Stansfield Parish Council was to discuss feedback from residents to the proposal by Arqiva to build the mast, I was at the Suffolk County Better Broadband Board meeting. I was astonished when the county council officer sitting next to me suddenly announced he had just had an email from Arqiva saying it was unable to proceed to completion on 5 of the 11 projects planned for Suffolk.

Three of those five are Assington Green, Hartest and Dalham – so a big blow for all of us in West Suffolk who struggle to get a phone signal.Mobile_phone_evolution

I have no signal on my county council issue O2 mobile and can manage, sometimes, to send a text from my own EE IPhone. On a daily basis people phone and text both devices so I have to make sure when I leave home to stop and check and try to catch up with the world.

I guess many of us locally have had the experience of waiting in for visitors or a delivery when the driver cant find the house nor a spot with a strong enough signal to call and check the address!

Notspots are defined as areas of no signal with any operator and the £150m national Mobile Infrastructure Project was to deliver about 600 masts across the country. Apparently there have been a host of problems in finding suitable sites with suitable infrastructure, such as access to power, and gaining planning permission. The project, which is scheduled to end next April, has now run out of time to complete installations that haven’t yet gained planning approval.

I have urged both James Cartlidge and Matthew Hancock, the MPs for South Suffolk and West Suffolk respectively, to press for a Government commitment to improve mobile reception in our area.

It is true to say that since the MiP was launched, the Government has reached a legally binding £5billion deal with the four mobile phone operators in the UK to improve mobile infrastructure. The plan guarantees voice and text mobile coverage to 90 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2017.

I am an optimist by nature, but I can’t help being disappointed that an improvement we were promised by next spring at the latest is not now happening and I am anxiously looking for reassurance that we won’t be forgotten under the new deal and will finally get upgraded in 2017.

*On the highspeed broadband front, the first contract is just being finished with the installation in Little Thurlow of the final cabinet in this phase.

 During the rollout of the first contract, the BT research team at Martlesham has been trialling several pilots across Suffolk to develop ways to deliver highspeed broadband to the most remote communities and properties.

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Now for some cheering news: One of these pilot schemes – using remote nodes which are effectively mini cabinets attached to telegraph poles – has proved so effective it is being built into the second contract.

 It is especially suited to Suffolk villages where often there is a main heart of a village, to be served by a new cabinet, but with an outlying hamlet or small group of properties lying too far from the cabinet for the broadband speed to hold up.

In these situations, the installation of remote nodes will be able to take the highspeed service straight to the properties and at much less cost than digging up the road and laying miles of fibre. So hopefully we will see some of this technology being deployed around here…. the site of the new cabinet for Stansfield has been selected – at the bottom of Plough Hill and the cabling is neatly coiled awaiting installation. The big challenge is how to get the fibre optic cable from the Hawkedon exchange to Stansfield. I hope to find out v soon!

We should soon have the definitive view on the rollout plans for the second contract at which point SCC will brief all councillors and upgrade its website map with the high level phasing, and use a detailed address level checker.

From December, our broadband team will also arrange community briefings to share detail on the plans and I have put in a bid for a public meeting in this area.