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Vodafone upgrades old phone boxes to support surfers

MNO is giving old phone boxes in Cornwall a new lease of life with a 4G upgrade

As Cornwall gears up for the summer tourist season, mobile network operator (MNO) Vodafone is repurposing a number of old BT phone boxes in the county to boost 4G mobile network coverage at popular beaches at Sennen, near Penzance, and Polzeath, near Padstow.

The miniature 4G base stations have been installed in the roofs of the phone boxes, boosting coverage across a radius of about 200m, returning the phone boxes to their roots.

With mobile coverage often difficult to provide beside the seaside because of factors such as local topography – cliffs, and so on – and a lack of access for power and fibre backhaul, Vodafone has for some time been exploring new ways to boost mobile coverage along the coast.

To this end, the operator deployed a number of so-called “mini-masts” around Porthcurno, a few miles from Sennen, in 2018. These telescopic mobile masts extend to a height of 8m, about half the height of the shortest standard mast, which means they are more easily deployed in beauty spots where permission cannot be granted for taller masts.

“Improved mobile coverage in rural areas helps the local economy, keeps people connected and, above all, offers reassurance at times when you just have to make that call,” said Vodafone’s UK CTO, Scott Petty. “But it can be challenging to deliver. That is why we are in the final stages of presenting to government our industry-wide blueprint for improving mobile coverage. It is also why we are looking at innovative ways of extending coverage, such as making use of phone boxes.”

Vodafone said its new sites at Sennen and Polzeath are equipped to cope with substantial increases in mobile usage during peak holiday periods, such as over the upcoming long Easter weekend. It claimed that mobile data traffic over its network in Cornwall showed a year-on-year increase of over 90% last summer.

Read more about 4G in rural areas

The operator has been working on a number of initiatives to help support national plans to bring mobile coverage to 95% of the UK’s total landmass in the next three years.

Besides 4G-enabled phone boxes – which it set up in Edinburgh to support spikes in network usage during the Hogmanay celebrations – it has also developed two designs for 4G manhole covers, which are being tested at its Newbury headquarters and also have a range of about 200m.

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