Councils and Countryside Alliance back Vodafone rural 3G plan

Local councils and the Countryside Alliance lend support to Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme for rural broadband

Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme – launched in July – has received the support of the National Association of Local Councils (Nalc) and the Countryside Alliance, as the operator’s search for rural communities to receive mobile signal upgrades reaches its final stages.

The programme will see Vodafone install open femtocell technology in 100 rural communities to provide 3G mobile signal over an existing broadband connection. It has already conducted a pilot scheme in 12 villages around the UK that currently receive poor – or no – mobile signal.

Vodafone talked up some of the benefits it has already been able to provide to its pilot communities, including improved response times for local doctors and other essential government services, as well as local businesses.

With just more than two weeks remaining until the closing date for submissions, Vodafone has enlisted Nalc, the representative body for 9,000 parish and town councils in England, and the Countryside Alliance, the national rural issues campaign body, to drum up extra support for the programme.

Vodafone UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp said although the programme had not lacked entrants, the provider was still keen to get more communities interested.

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“I am very pleased Nalc and the Countryside Alliance are supporting our major programme to improve rural mobile coverage,” he said.

“We are now three weeks away from the closing date and I encourage those who have not yet put in their applications to take up this opportunity to bring mobile access to communities in their local village,” he added.

Nalc chairman Ken Browse said fast broadband access was essential for socioeconomic wellbeing in rural areas.

“We encourage local councils and communities to commit to citizen-led action by entering this scheme, which could help to protect local assets and services, and deliver responsive services to meet the needs of communities,” he said.

Countryside Alliance policy head Sarah Lee agreed and said the importance of good mobile phone coverage to those who live and work in rural areas cannot be overemphasised. 

"This is a good example of the innovative systems that can fill in reception gaps in the more remote and difficult-to-reach areas,” she said.

Rural Open Sure Signal forms part of a £1bn investment underway to upgrade Vodafone’s network and services, which includes the extension of 4G mobile coverage to 319 major towns and cities. Its ultimate goal is to provide at least a 2G service to 98% of the UK.

Rival EE has similar ambitions, although its own rural connectivity programme has seen it extend its 4G coverage – already the widest in the UK. So far, it has connected more than 2,500 villages, some with populations of less than 100, to its 4G network.

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