News | 27 Jul 2023

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.

Vodafone, working alongside mobile coverage service partner Net CS and the Church of England, have started installing the latest 4G technology in 11 church bell towers across the UK. This will ensure rural customers, businesses and visitors can enjoy a strong and reliable Vodafone 4G connection.

The church towers are being kitted out with small, well-hidden boxes that give a 4G signal with a 500-metre coverage radius.

The Blessed Virgin Mary in Brompton Regis, Somerset, and St Michael’s & All Angels in Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire are the first UK churches to go live, with a further nine, located across Dorset, Essex, Norfolk and Wiltshire, going live in the coming months.

Mobile connectivity continues to play a vital role in supporting rural economies. However, mobile network operators can struggle to gain planning permission for required masts, particularly in rural locations. OpenRAN is a new way of building a mobile site that can be smaller, lighter and more energy efficient, perfect for use in rural or remote communities.

Vodafone OpenRAN tech brings 4G coverage to seven UK rural communities

By using OpenRAN, Vodafone is bringing mobile coverage to more places than ever and helping to close the UK's digital divide.

Vodafone became the first UK mobile operator to switch on a live OpenRAN site in August 2020, with hundreds of communities now set to benefit from the technology by 2027. Early in December 2022, Vodafone announced deployment of the technology on mobile masts across Exmouth and Torquay, which is the first time in Europe that OpenRAN has been used in an urban environment.

Andrea Dona, Network and Development Director, Vodafone UK, said: “Churches are typically very tall, on high ground, and close to the community we’re trying to connect. This makes them the perfect place to install a mobile site, and now we’ve developed technology that’s small enough not to spoil the appearance of the church. Our aim is to use this cutting-edge technology to improve mobile coverage in as many rural locations as possible. This is an important step in ensuring rural communities can enjoy all the benefits of mobile connectivity.”

Vodafone deploys OpenRAN in urban locations in European first

OpenRAN masts in Exmouth and Torquay will be delivered thanks to Vodafone's partnerships with Dell, Intel, Samsung, Wind River, and Capgemini.

The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, said: “This project is an example of the many ways churches benefit their local communities. As well as delivering better mobile coverage, the improved connectivity achieved through these new church-based sites helps combat the social justice issue of poor connectivity which affects many residents in rural areas.

“The key consideration for us has always been the wishes of local communities, who have been widely supportive of these new sites. Net CS, our infrastructure facilitator, ensures that the new installations are unobtrusive, safe for our congregations and the wider community and will deliver benefits to church users and the whole community.”

Vodafone investment in South West to bring benefits to local communities, businesses and visitors

Beachfront and rural locations in Cornwall are among the first in the UK to benefit from new OpenRAN 4G technology.

Peter Morrell-Brown, Chairman, Net CS, said: “This project clearly demonstrates the value of churches as a key part of the nationwide solution to mobile not-spots. OpenRAN has made a lot of these sites viable for the first time, providing new locations that could go a long way towards driving better rural and urban coverage across the country.”

“We see this project as just the beginning of the growth of church-based mobile coverage sites – the infrastructure that we’re putting in place is available for use by any operator, potentially solving a significant part of the UK’s mobile coverage challenge.”

This development is the latest in a series of Vodafone initiatives to extend services to rural communities. These includes the Shared Rural Network (SRN), a £1bn joint initiative between government and the UK’s four mobile network operators to extend overall 4G coverage across the UK.

Borders residents and businesses get 4G mobile signal boost thanks to UK government investment

A Shared Rural Network mast, near Lockerbie and funded by the UK government, is the first of 120 planned upgrades to bolster 4G reception across Scotland.

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