Features | 29 Aug 2023

Ten things you never knew about Vodafone 4G

As Vodafone's 4G network in the UK marks its 10th anniversary, we take a look at some of the unusual places you'll find Vodafone 4G signal and how we made it happen.

On 29 August 2013, Vodafone launched its UK 4G network. Initially going live in London, by the end of the year it had arrived in cities across the country, including Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Today in 2023, Vodafone 4G reaches over 99% of the UK population, giving customers fast and reliable data speeds as well as calls that connect quickly with crystal-clear audio quality.

To reach our customers with signal, we continue to think cleverly. So as 4G celebrates its 10th birthday, we are highlighting some of the locations where you wouldn’t expect to receive Vodafone 4G, as well as some of the unusual ways Vodafone uses to deliver it.

Self-powering mast

photo of a cow in front of the Vodafone self-powering mast at Eglwyswrw

Credits: Alexander Viner

Credits: Alexander Viner
Vodafone’s self-powering mast at Eglwyswrw (pronounced ‘egli-soo-roo’) in Pembrokeshire, Wales

In June 2022, Vodafone switched on the UK’s first self-powering mobile phone mast in the small rural community of Eglwyswrw in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The specially designed mast provides 4G coverage, but with less reliance on the national electricity grid as it has its own solar panels, wind turbine and battery. It’s hoped that masts of this kind could be the solution to bringing connectivity to signal coverage ‘not-spots’ in the UK’s most remote and inaccessible locations.

Phone boxes

illustrative photo of a Vodafone 4G-enabled phone box at Sennen Cove in Cornwall
Vodafone making good use of disused phone boxes to extend 4G coverage in rural areas such as Cornish beaches. Vodafone 4G kit is housed in the roof of the phone box.

For over 100 years, the traditional phone box has been a familiar sight on UK’s streets.  In recent years, they haven’t been as busy as they once were, due in part to the introduction of the mobile phone. But Vodafone has been using these iconic pieces of street furniture to supply 4G signal in locations across the UK, including London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Guildford, Harrow, Oxford, Reading and Winchester.

Technology fitted to the roof of the phone box delivers 4G within a 200-metre coverage radius, making it perfect for busy city centres. It can support seasonal locations, too, which is why it’s also been installed on phone boxes loacated at two busy beaches on the Cornish coast, Polzeath and Sennen Cove.

COWs – Cells On Wheels

What do you do when thousands of people suddenly descend on a festival, expecting the mobile phone coverage levels they receive at home? How do you ensure you have coverage in the middle of a field which, for the rest of the year, belongs to the cows? You call on COWs of course! A Cell On Wheels is just a mast mounted on a lorry trailer.

Vodafone has wheeled out its fleet of COWs more than 140 times so far in 2023. They’ve had a busy summer, visiting events such as Glastonbury, Royal Ascot, the Genesis Scottish Open Golf Tournament, Royal International Air Tattoo, Brighton Pride and National Eisteddfod of Wales.

A COW isn’t just for summer though – they will continue to visit a number of events throughout the rest of 2023, including Goodwood Revival, the PGA Golf Championship and Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.

Summer of strong signal: Vodafone gears up for 2023 events  

For dozens of festivals, shows and events across the country this summer, from the Scottish Open to the Bournemouth Air Festival, Vodafone is working hard to ensure that visitors can stay connected.

Village churches

An OpenRAN mast on a church steeple
An OpenRAN mast on a church steeple.

Ancient churches, which have been the centre point of their community for hundreds of years, have found a modern way to support their parishioners with a much-needed signal boost. 11 rural churches across the UK are currently being kitted out with small mini mobile sites using OpenRAN technology.

Placed high on church bell towers, the shoebox-sized equipment is well-hidden. As a result, local homes and businesses, as well as any Vodafone customers visiting the church and its local community, are now starting to receive dedicated Vodafone 4G signal.

Heavens above! Church bell towers are ringing in better rural 4G

Vodafone, alongside the Church of England and Net CS, is using the latest technology to unobtrusively provide better 4G signal in rural communities.

Beside the seaside

photo of an OpenRAN site on a roof near Fistral Beach
The unobtrusive OpenRAN site on a roof near Fistral Beach, Cornwall.

Hidden away on a building’s roof near Newquay’s Fistral Beach is a small box which has been delivering Vodafone 4G to residents, businesses and holidaymakers for the last two years. The small cell OpenRAN technology was one of the first of its kind to go live in the UK as part of Vodafone’s commitment to using the technology to improve coverage for customers in rural and remote locations.

Mini masts

Porthcurno beach is one of the most beautiful spots on the south Cornish coast. As you walk down the track to reach it, you may not notice a mini mast which provides 4G to residents and visitors. Standing only eight metres high, it’s less than half the height of the shortest standard mast. It blends into its environment and, unlike traditional mobile masts, it does not require a separate technology cabinet to house the power supply and electronics.

Our mini masts are also much quicker to install – taking approximately a third of the time needed to install a standard mast.

Mobile phone masts: Everything you need to know

Finding suitable sites, securing planning permission, and building mobile phone masts is more of a tricky and time-consuming business than you may have realised. Our Q&A explains why.


Back in December 2018, we brought Christmas cheer to the good people of the Portland Bill Coastwatch station in Dorset.

Staffed 365 days a year by volunteers, the station is hard to reach in the winter. So we delivered some much-needed mince pies, chocolate and gingerbread men using a 4G-connected drone.

The goodies were delivered by a specially adapted drone made to look like Santa’s sleigh and was the first-ever UK drone delivery over a 4G mobile network.

image of a Skyports drone flying over Argyll and Bute

Since then, drone deliveries have (pardon the pun) completely taken off. In 2020, drones connected to our 4G network were used to deliver medical supplies between NHS facilities on the remote Scottish Islands of Argyll and Bute.

This is just one of the ways cellular-connected drones can be used. Other examples include monitoring and responding to emergencies, tracking and protecting animals from poachers, as well as providing support during disasters, such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Airports, department stores and football stadia

Whether its airports, shopping centres or stadia, the Vodafone 4G network is constantly working to meet the demand wherever people congregate. That’s why Vodafone has installed dedicated network systems in datahungry indoor hotspots.

Locations that have recently received this treatment include Manchester’s Etihad Stadium, the Battersea Power Station estate, Westfield White City, Westfield Stratford City, Midsummer Place in Milton Keynes, Trinity Leeds, as well as Bristol and Gatwick  airports

With dedicated Vodafone 4G equipment in these venues, not only can we deliver fast data speeds for shoppers, travellers and fans, we can support traders with vital business tools such as ePOS (electronic Point of Sale) systems, too. 

The London Underground

Following a pilot on the eastern end of the Jubilee line, Vodafone 4G arrived on the London Underground in December 2022, with Vodafone 5G not far behind in February 2023.

As a result, customers are using enough data across both 4G and 5G to post over 1.5 billion WhatsApp messages a day from an ever-growing number of station platforms and tunnels. When the roll-out is completed, all London Underground and Elizabeth line stations will have Vodafone 4G.

The worlds largest offshore wind farm

a woman in safety equipment standing on a platform in the middle of the sea in front of a ship and two wind turbines, Hornsea wind farm

About 88km (55 miles) off the Yorkshire coast sits Hornsea 2, the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Since October 2022, the wind farm has had a  dedicated 4G signal. As a result, the people working there can keep in contact with loved ones on the mainland. The connectivity also helps them operate and maintain the site which spans an area of 462km.

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