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Vodafone’s 4G network goes underground

Operator will roll out small 4G and 5G-ready antenna to boost network coverage over short distances in areas of dense usage, using manhole covers, among other things

Vodafone is to press cast-iron manhole covers into service to boost 4G mobile network coverage in urban areas and prepare its network for the launch of 5G in 2019, by fixing small antennae to their undersides.

The operator has been exploring inventive ways to grow and strengthen its network as it prepares for the challenges that 5G will bring – not least in terms of elevated user expectations.

It believes that housing mobile equipment within street furniture such as manhole covers, lamp-posts and existing telephone boxes will increase the speed and extend the coverage of its mobile network in busy areas.

“We are committed to providing customers with the best network possible by drawing on our strengths in innovation and strong UK heritage,” said Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery. “It is great to be able to use yesterday’s infrastructure – from phone boxes to manhole covers – to deliver the services of tomorrow.

“This is one of the ways we are extending our 4G services to areas other networks cannot reach, and getting ready for 5G.”

Vodafone’s manhole cover antennae can be fitted without disrupting the host community with extensive street works, and because they are underground, the antennaendo not change the look and feel of the local area. This is especially important in localities that may be subject to stricter planning laws for conservation purposes.

Read more about 4G

  • Mobile operator Three hopes to boost average mobile data speeds on its 4G network by up to 33% through carrier aggregation.
  • O2 has extended its rural 4G network roll-out, targeting over 300 small communities all over the UK.

Vodafone has developed two types of mobile-enabled manhole covers. The first is a purpose-built, reinforced unit similar in size to a back garden water butt, which can be sunk into the ground, and the other is fitted to the underside of an existing manhole cover. In this way, the company said it can boost network coverage over about 200m.

At the same time, the operator has begun to deploy small 4G antennae on the roofs of traditional phone boxes in Edinburgh, starting on Princes Street, where it hopes to bolster its network to support the upcoming Hogmanay celebrations.

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