Vodafone hits switch on UK’s first live ‘self-powering’ mobile phone mast

Mast incorporates technology to not only reduce environmental impact, but also help bring connectivity to ‘not-spots’ in remote and rural areas

Vodafone has switched on what it says is a trial of the UK’s first live wind- and solar-powered mobile phone mast in Pembrokeshire, Wales, bringing 4G coverage to the community of Eglwyswrw.

The company first announced in November 2021 that it was developing self-powered mobile towers to not only expand its network reach, but also offer new services while reducing energy consumption in its future networks, supporting its target of achieving net-zero for UK operations by 2027. Globally across 21 countries, Vodafone is setting out to halve the emissions in its supply chain by 2030, before reaching net-zero across its full value chain by 2040.

And in September 2021, Vodafone announced that it was using a “breakthrough” energy solution from Ericsson for 5G network equipment to reduce forecast energy consumption in its future network. The new 5G radio unit is said to be 43% more energy-efficient than its legacy equivalent.

The specially designed mast in Wales, which the operator believes could remove the need for a connection to the national electricity grid, is also part of its stated ambition to help the UK’s mobile industry achieve 95% of UK landmass coverage by 2025 by providing mobile connectivity to “not-spots” in the country’s most remote and inaccessible locations.

Vodafone believes that bringing mobile and internet services to rural communities helps boost the local economy, tackle isolation and close the rural digital divide. It said that to date, building masts in coverage “not-spots” without an existing electricity connection has been a significant financial and logistical challenge.

The “self-powering” mast incorporates what is said to be a unique wind turbine from renewable energy technology specialist Crossflow Energy that can generate power even in light winds. The mast is said to be able to be installed without the need to dig trenches and lay electricity cables, making it faster and easier to install and reducing the impact on the local environment.

Vodafone also regards the mast as “extremely quiet”, making it viable for sensitive sites such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and also possible to be “filtered out” as a solid object by radar, birds and bats, so it is easily avoided, making it less harmful to wildlife.

In partnership with Crossflow Energy and mobile infrastructure partner Cornerstone, Vodafone will run the mast for two years and use data gathered from the deployment to help it optimise the technology and determine which sites are most suitable for such masts.

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To ensure local people stay connected while the “self-powering” mast is being trialled, Vodafone has retrofitted an existing mast site that is connected to the national electricity grid. The mast will be mainly powered by the green energy generated on-site but can be “topped up” by electricity from the grid if required. In future, for remote sites with no national grid connection, another power source will be required as backup. Vodafone is exploring a range of options.

“Connectivity is vital to everyone, no matter where you live,” said Andrea Dona, chief network officer and development director at Vodafone. “This self-powering mobile phone mast, with on-site battery storage, could help us connect places that were previously impossible to reach. It will also help us reduce carbon emissions and minimise our impact on local environments. If this trial is a success, we would like to roll out more self-powering masts, with a focus on areas with poor or no coverage.”

Crossflow Energy CEO Martin Barnes added: “We are incredibly excited to be partnering with Vodafone on this UK first. Until now, the use of ‘small wind’ turbines in the race to net zero has been limited due to issues of performance, reliability and planning concerns, such as noise, vibration and damage to ecology. The unique design of our wind turbine addresses all these challenges head-on. We believe that one day its use could be as widespread and commonplace as solar panels.”

Cornerstone chief executive officer Rhys Phillip said: “As the UK’s leading tower company, we are proud to be involved in this landmark project, driving innovation to create scalable, sustainable connectivity solutions. We look forward to our continued collaboration on our journey towards environmentally friendly site designs.”

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