WREXHAM will still need new 5G masts to improve connectivity across the city, councillors have been told.
The council’s employment, business, investment scrutiny committee received an update on the SMART City pilot which has seen sensors installed around the city to track a range of data from footfall to air quality.
As part of the update councillors heard that SMART City Development Officer David Evans has forged positive relationships with phone operators in the last year.
The council is now set to sign an Open Access Agreement, where mobile network operators can assist in improving the network by means of using street lighting columns.
Small cell technology is used in highly populated urban areas to boost the network. The agreement with Freshwave, at no cost to the council, will then allow mobile network operators to install small cell technology on council street lighting that can begin addressing the blackspots of Wrexham.
Ruabon Cllr Dana Davies (Lab) raised the poor-quality mobile signal experienced across the county currently and asked whether anything had happened to worsen it.
She also referred to previous council investment in CCTV which included free Wi-Fi hotspots to be installed around the city centre, improving signal, which was mooted back in 2015.
Cllr Davies asked whether that had ever come to fruition.
“It seems to have deteriorated where residents and visitors say they’ve had mobile phone signals in the past, something’s happened because those signals have plummeted?”, she said.
Cllr Davies added that it was important for Wrexham to have infrastructure worthy of being a city and needs to be spread across the whole county.
Council regeneration manager Rebeccah Lowry said she would look into what happened with the previous CCTV project but recalled that there were GDPR (general data protection regulation) issues with it.
On the open access agreement, Mr Evans the SMART City officer said: “We’ve found a company, a neutral host (Freshwave). We’re not responsible for improving mobile network connectivity but what we can do is provide a bridge of support.
“It’s cost neutral to the authority. We’d be the first in Wales to do it.
“I anticipate by next week the legal agreement will be signed. We know Plas Coch, the football ground area it’s really, really, bad. Even Rhostyllen has issues and there’s black spots all over the city centre.
“We know how important it is for visitors and businesses to have good mobile signal. Data is key, 5G, fibre broadband. How can we get a public Wi-Fi system in place? It’s not going to be imminent but it will come in the future.
“There’s technology out there now that can transmit Wi-Fi through a streetlight.”
Grosvenor Cllr Marc Jones (Plaid) raised the issue of planning applications for 5G masts not being approved, and whether the benefits of this agreement could help “sidestep” the problem.
Plans for 5G masts have previously not proved welcome in some parts of Wrexham.
Earlier this year Wrexham Council turned down an application from network operator Three, part of CK Hutchison, for a telecommunications pole and cabinets earmarked for the corner of Percy Road and Stockwell Grove in Hightown.
The council cited potential detrimental visual impact as a reason for refusal.
Prior to the planning decision, public meetings were held by residents against the plans.
Last month CK Hutchison Networks (UK) Ltd confirmed it was appealing the decision to the Welsh Government’s planning inspectorate.
Mr Evans said companies applying for masts do not tend to engage with the council’s planning department, which has not helped resolve issues when their application has come to be determined.
He confirmed that 5G masts will still be needed for Wrexham residents to see an improvement in connectivity.