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Vodafone uses femtocells to turn pubs into hubs

Vodafone pilots a new programme to bring connectivity to community pubs in remote parts of the country

Four rural pubs, two in Norfolk, one in Flintshire and one in Dyfed, have been hooked up with femtocell technology to enhance mobile connectivity in a pilot scheme run by mobile operator Vodafone as part of its outreach into disconnected rural villages.

A femtocell is a small, discreet unit resembling a wireless router, which connects to existing fixed broadband connections to boost deep 3G voice coverage and 3G mobile access indoors and outdoors. Vodafone has already made extensive use of the technology in its Rural Open Sure Signal programme, improving 3G coverage in small villages without the use of traditional mobile masts.

A number of factors can affect the ability to receive decent quality mobile coverage in rural pubs through traditional means, including the presence of old buildings with thick walls, issues with planning permission or a lack of fibre backhaul for mobile masts, as well as the better-known issues associated with lack of connectivity in rural parts of the country.

The Rural Community Pub programme has been launched in partnership with rural pubs organisation Pub is the Hub – a non-profit that works alongside rural pubs to support local services by encouraging business diversification.

The partners hope the pilot will demonstrate how village pubs – hundreds of which are lost every year around the UK – can use reliable, indoor mobile coverage and internet access to put themselves back at the centre of rural community life.

The Cross Keys in Dilham, Norfolk, and The Mermaid Inn in Elsing, Norfolk, have already gone live with the technology, while the Blue Bell at Halkyn in Flintshire, and The Royal Oak at Rhandirmwyn, Llandovery in Dyfed will come online in the next few months.

“Dilham is an area with very little mobile coverage. Being on the Norfolk Broads, we get a lot of holiday makers coming into the pub who have previously been disappointed by the lack of coverage,” said Paul Grothier, landlord at The Cross Keys.

“Since the technology has gone live, the pub has fantastic 3G coverage and fast data speeds. My customers, staff and business are reaping the benefits.”

Steve Marquis, landlord at the Blue Bell Inn, commented: “The Blue Bell Inn brings quite a bit of tourism to north-east Wales and the 3G coverage that the Vodafone Rural Community Pub programme will bring could hopefully be one of the key drivers to increase the quality of a visit to our venue.Customers will have an instant way to share experiences here in this increasingly connected world.”

“Commercial properties in rural communities have lost out for too long as they lagged behind the rest of the UK in digital connectivity. This programme is a great example of the innovative thinking we need,” added George Norman, MP for Mid-Norfolk.

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