Features | 05 Mar 2019

From quarries to manhole covers: how Vodafone is thinking differently to improve 4G network coverage

By Scott Petty, Chief Technology Officer, Vodafone UK


Building masts is the most obvious way of improving mobile coverage, but it’s not the only way. Even if the process for getting these masts approved and built was fast, easy and inexpensive, it’s not always the right approach. At Vodafone, our cunningly imaginative network team has devised some ingenious ways of boosting mobile reception.

4G networks can easily become congested in densely populated cities. This is especially true for urban areas regularly visited by waves of tourists, such as London’s Covent Garden. Fitting a mini-mast to the underside of a manhole cover to increase mobile coverage may sound bizarre, but it makes perfect sense. Our incredibly fast fibre optic network runs beneath the streets of Covent Garden and provides the bandwidth muscle behind our manhole cover mini-masts. Each mini-mast isn’t designed to boost coverage for all of London or even the West End, but for specific stretches of Covent Garden where overwhelming demand for a strong and stable 4G signal would otherwise go unmet.

Vodafone UK’s Senior Networks Manager Mohamed Elhabiby installing a 4G-enabled manhole and cover in Newbury, Berkshire. By connecting manhole covers to our all fibre fully converged network, we can provide improved 4G coverage now and 5G in the future.

But manhole cover mini-masts won’t be appropriate or possible in every locality. For some places, such as Edinburgh’s historic Princes Street, mini-masts built into phone boxes make more sense. These converted phone boxes not only provide a boost to mobile reception on this bustling thoroughfare, but help preserve a much-loved icon of our national urban heritage.

In other places, such as Penzance, the presence of Vodafone stores gave us an unexpected opportunity. Some stores have windows on the second floor that overlook the street below. In 39 of these stores, we were able to fit a mini-mast into a bracket around the window. This boosted mobile coverage for anyone in the area around the store.

Businesses in out-of-the-way, tricky-to-reach locations need a reliable mobile signal just as much as shoppers and tourists in the big cities. JCB, one of the world’s top three manufacturers of construction equipment, have workplaces in rural Staffordshire. These sites are nestled in quarries which are challenging locations for coverage. This meant they had to do without fast, reliable 4G signal – until now. Working with JCB, our engineers have installed mini-masts specially adapted to the conditions of these quarries. They’re not only smaller than a standard mast, but need less power and can be painted to blend in better with the environment.

mini masts are quick to deploy

The beauty of all these solutions is that they’re not restricted to 4G – they can be upgraded to support 5G in the future. These are just a few of the inventive, adaptable and forward-thinking ways in which Vodafone is continually improving mobile coverage for everyone.