Vodafone, the UK operator, is taking a celestial approach to address rural mobile coverage challenges. In collaboration with the Church of England and coverage solutions specialist Net CS, Vodafone plans to deploy Open RAN 4G signal boosters in 11 church bell towers across the country. These boosters have a range of up to 500 meters, offering coverage to the surrounding areas.
Two churches, the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brompton Regis, Somerset, and St Michael’s and All Angels in Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire, have already gone live with the signal boosters. The remaining nine sites are expected to be operational in the coming months.
The deployment of mobile equipment in picturesque and rural locations can often face challenges when obtaining planning permission due to concerns about aesthetics. In the case of church buildings, it is crucial to handle such installations delicately.
Vodafone highlights that the signal boosters used in this initiative are small, discreet, and designed not to detract from the appearance of the cherished buildings. Andrea Dona, Network and Development Director at Vodafone UK, expresses the significance of using these churches as mobile sites, as they are tall, situated on elevated ground, and close to the communities that need connectivity. The aim is to leverage this cutting-edge technology to enhance mobile coverage in various rural locations, ensuring that rural communities can access the benefits of mobile connectivity.
While the release does not mention site rental fees, it is probable that Vodafone is compensating the churches for hosting its equipment, contributing to the upkeep of these historical buildings.
The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, emphasizes the importance of considering the wishes of local communities, who have been generally supportive of the new sites, thanks to Net CS’s efforts in ensuring unobtrusive, safe installations with benefits for church users and the wider community. Peter Morrell-Brown, Chairman of Net CS, sees this project as just the beginning of the growth of church-based mobile coverage sites, with the infrastructure available for use by any operator, potentially addressing a significant part of the UK’s mobile coverage challenges.
In addition to improving rural coverage, Vodafone is also focusing on enhancing its backbone network to provide end-users with fast and reliable connectivity to content and applications. The Redstream Evolution project aims to migrate from three separate backbone networks to a converged, ultra-high capacity, software-defined networking (SDN)-enabled IP backbone. This new architecture allows content partners to cache data closer to end-users, enhancing the performance and responsiveness of their services.
Andrea Dona highlights that this investment in the backbone network is critical to meet the increasing demands of data traffic and ensure an exceptional network experience for customers now and in the future. The migration process for mobile, fixed, and business customers is well underway, with Vodafone progressing towards completing the project, although the specific date was not disclosed.