Residents of the Cotswold town of Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire will be able to make calls and browse the internet over a 3G mobile network for the first time, after the community was named as the first of 100 rural towns and villages to receive coverage under Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme.
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Vodafone has turned to its Sure Signal femtocell technology, which plugs into a standard broadband connection to improve 3G coverage in rural areas and not-spots. Sure Signal has been available to Vodafone customers since 2009, but up to now has only been used to enhance indoor network coverage.
Since the Rural Open Sure Signal programme was announced in July 2014, Vodafone claims to have received hundreds of applications from communities across the length and breadth of the UK.
Following a trial covering 12 towns and villages, it has now announced the first 30 communities selected to join the programme, which it is hoped will enhance everyday life for consumers and make it easier to do business in rural areas.
Minchinhampton resident and village champion Stephen Hemmings said the area is looking forward to experiencing the benefits of 3G mobile services first-hand and expects it will boost the village's rural economy.
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“The thousands of tourists who visit our community and its surrounding area will also greatly benefit from this,” he said.
Local MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said he was delighted Minchinhampton is the first successful applicant for the Rural Open Sure Signal programme.
"This scheme will be a huge benefit to the local community, helping businesses to connect with their customers and allowing people to stay in touch with their family and friends.,” he said.
Vodafone’s programme to address the thorny issue of mobile not-spots has been backed by both the National Association of Local Councils and the Countryside Alliance.
The mobile network operator (MNO) has made much of its £1bn commercial investment in its network being made in 2014. This has left it somewhat at odds with the government, which would prefer to explore other options for improving rural mobile coverage.
The first 30 communities
St Andrews, Orkney; Isle of Luing, Argyll; Seil and Easdale, Argyll; Killeter, County Tyrone; Pomery, County Tyrone; Bryneglwys, Denbighshire; Corris, Gwynedd; Hillington, Norfolk; High Kelling, Norfolk; Throverton, Devon; Upper Sheringham, Norfolk; Bridgerule, Devon; Shobrooke, Devon; Borrowdale, Cumbria; Chesil Bank, Dorset; Coln St Aldwyns, Gloucesterhire; Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire; Easton, Hampshire; Bramdean, Hampshire, Moylegrove, Pembrokeshire; Blackerstone, Berwickshire; Broad Chalk, Wiltshire; Letcombe Regis, Oxfordshire; Childrey, Oxfordshire; Newborough, Oxfordshire; Spring Grove, Somerset; Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham. Extended communities are: Blakeney, Norfolk; Caldbeck, Cumbria; and East Garton, Berkshire.
At the start of November 2014, culture secretary Sajid Javid launched a new consultation on rural mobile networks, and warned MNOs, such as Vodafone, Westminster may try to force legislation on them to introduce national roaming, where mobile phones without signal in certain areas roam onto competitive networks.
Vodafone was quick to speak out against the idea, saying it was technically complex, would damage the consumer experience and was too complex from a regulatory, competitive and legal standpoint.
The Mobile Operator’s Association backed Vodafone, saying national roaming was the wrong solution, and accused the government of undermining what had been “productive discussions” with the UK’s four MNOs.
Meanwhile, Vodafone said it would continue to work on Sure Signal, and is still accepting applications from other communities to join the plan.