Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Federation of the Electronics Industry

  This briefing has been prepared by the Mobile Telecoms Advisory Group (MTAG), which represents the UK mobile phone operators (BT Cellnet, One2One, Orange, Vodafone and the new third generation licence holder Hutchison 3G). MTAG is a special interest group within FEI.


  The growth of the mobile communications sector has been one of the UK's great industrial success stories. Since commercial services were first launched in 1985, their uptake has been nothing short of phenomenal, particularly in the past five years.

  Key to this approach has been the development of a competitive market, licensing designed to ensure and promote competition and deliver low consumer prices, and a planning regime that has enabled the continual development of networks to ensure they support the demands of the UK's 40 million mobile phone users.

  The Government has committed itself "to developing the UK as the best place in the world for e-commerce." The success of this strategy will depend in part on the continued success of mobile.


  Mobile communications are now fundamental to business operations, individual lifestyles and the welfare of the national economy. The benefits of communication between people and not just places have been sought by those throughout the country, in rural and urban environments alike.

  More than 70 per cent of the total population of the UK (and 80 per cent of 16-44 year olds), 84 per cent of medium businesses, and 54 per cent of small businesses, own mobile phones. 71 per cent of all households have access to one, and almost 10 per cent of users no longer use fixed lines. The past two years have seen more than 45,000 people buying mobile phones every day. 85 per cent penetration is foreseen by 2004.

  Such popularity and growth has seen the sector become increasingly key to the UK economy, contributing some £5.3 billion to UK GDP annually, £1.3 billion in tax revenue, and in excess of £22 billion in third generation licence fees in 2000 alone. Moreover, the sector employs around 164,000 people directly and indirectly.


  Mobile's impact on society is already huge but may only be the tip of the iceberg. The prospects for mobile to impact on almost every aspect of life are only just being developed. Growing sophistication in mobile communications will see benefits in areas such as the following:

    —  internet commerce;

    —  access to medical and emergency services;

    —  rural development—in terms of countering the impact of isolation from key national infrastructure such as banks, bus routes and cable, and improving access to otherwise distant services;

    —  efficient use of transport; and

    —  more access to educational resources.


  Mobile communications will not work without the requisite network infrastructure. This is why there is a need for base stations (sometimes called masts). Base stations link the mobile handset to the rest of the mobile and fixed phone network. Because the radio signals used to provide this link only have a limited range, the user cannot be too far away from the base station in order for a call connection to be made.

  Moreover, base stations can only support a limited number of calls at any one time. This means more are needed where there is greater demand for service. The current reality is that with such huge growth in demand in such a short time, all four existing mobile networks are often unable to cope in built-up areas and on busy transport arteries, and there still remain many rural areas where coverage is limited and reception poor.

  The operators' existing and third generation licences also stipulate high levels of coverage and that all reasonable demands for service be met. This is why the operators are working so hard to develop their networks. Without them, the services will not work and licence obligations will not be met.


  Although the recent Stewart Report, other major scientific reviews, and regulatory bodies around the world continue to conclude that, on the current weight of scientific evidence, there are no adverse health effects from mobile technology, this issue has remained in the public spotlight. This is because of the complexity of both the science and the technology, perceptions driven by the media, and the development of networks currently taking place in the local community.

  The mobile communications industry recognises that public concern exists and is committed to addressing this concern as transparently and openly as possible. To this end, the industry has:

    —  ensured leaflet and website information on mobile phone health issues is widely available;

    —  provided financial support for individual scientific studies'

    —  committed to ensuring compliance with international (ICNIRP) public exposure guidelines;

    —  recruited dedicated operator community liaison teams to address concerns relating to base stations;

    —  engaged in a programme of dialogue with key stakeholders across the UK;

    —  launched training programmes in risk communication skills for its staff;

    —  expanded use of environmentally sensitive base station solutions.


  Some concerns have focused specifically on the industry's network development activities and the impact of this on the planning system. This issue is currently being addressed by a Government consultation on telecommunications planning policy.

  The mobile phone industry firmly believes that the key to successfully addressing public concerns lies in improved dialogue with the community based on communication and consultation.

  Hence the industry is committed to undertaking a package of initiatives, which it will deliver regardless of the outcome of the Government's consultation, to:

    —  develop, with other stakeholders, clear standards and procedures to deliver significantly improved consultation with local communities;

    —  participate in obligatory pre-rollout and pre-application consultation with local planning authorities;

    —  publish clear, transparent and accountable criteria and cross-industry agreement on site sharing, against which progress will be published regularly;

    —  establish professional development workshops on technological developments within telecommunications for local authority officers and elected members;

    —  deliver, with the Government, a database of information available to the public on radio base stations;

    —  access all radio base stations for international (ICNIRP) compliance for public exposure, and produce a programme for ICNIRP compliance for all radio base stations as recommended by the Stewart group;

    —  provide, as part of planning applications for radio base stations, a certification of compliance with ICNIRP public exposure guidelines;

    —  provide specific staff resources to respond to complaints and enquiries about radio base stations, within 10 working days;

    —  begin financially supporting the Government's independent scientific research programme on mobile communications health issues;

    —  develop standard supporting documentation for all planning submissions whether for full planning permission or prior approval.

  The industry believes these initiatives are a better way to address public concerns than further restrictive regulation, as the planning system is not equipped to assess health concerns. Indeed, tighter planning rules could aggravate those concerns by raising false expectations of a public veto on base station siting.

  More restrictive regulation would certainly make it harder for the industry to respond to the demand for service being made by more than 40 million people in the UK, while placing an added administrative burden on local planning authorities. It would also undermine the competitive edge the UK has gained in Europe through the swift uptake and development of mobile communications.

  This is why the industry is moving forward with this package of initiatives independently of the Government's consultation. The industry believes they will ensure a balance is maintained between safeguarding development of and access to mobile services in the UK and the need for greater environmental responsibility.

March 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 April 2001