Press Release | 06 Sep 2023

A year in the life of a COW: How Vodafone supports festivals and special events from the Isle of Wight to Dundee

From Glastonbury to Royal Ascot, from The Goodwood Festival of Speed to The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Vodafone provides reliable digital experiences to customers wherever they are, even where the network might not be.

  • Vodafone supports 71 special events across the UK each year, by installing temporary infrastructure, known as a “Cells on Wheel” (COW).
  • Temporary infrastructure allows Vodafone to provide digital services to consumers and business customers wherever they are in the UK, without leaving a permanent mark on the landscape.
  • Customers at Glastonbury Festival 2023 consumed almost 169 terabytes of data in an area where only dairy cows graze 359 days a year.
  • 5G data usage at special events is rapidly increasing, with customers using 80% more 5G data in 2023 compared to 2022.

In 2023, Vodafone deployed temporary mobile phone masts at 71 special events across the UK. These events took place in diverse locations, from the middle of the countryside (such as Glastonbury) to a London suburb (The Wimbledon Tennis Championships). But a vast increase in the number of people visiting a small location for a short period of time means the existing network would not be able to deliver the digital experience customers expect.

A COW (Cell on Wheel) is a temporary mobile mast that is erected prior to these events to provide connectivity in unusual circumstances. This might be when 200,000 people travel to rural Somerset to attend Glastonbury, or when the Wimbledon Tennis Championships cause thousands more people each day to descend on the leafy suburb of SW19.

With 24 COWs constantly travelling around the country, Vodafone is able to adapt its network to meet heightened demand for a short time. For example, Glastonbury is little more than a field with (real) cows for 359 days a year, but for five days it becomes the third largest city in the South West.

With 5G provided at every event Vodafone supported in 2023, customers were able to benefit from faster and more reliable connections. The amount of 5G data generated at events across 2023 increased by 80% in comparison to 2022.

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK said: “Providing the reliable digital experience our customers have come to expect is a challenge in normal circumstances. This becomes significantly more complex when there are hundreds of thousands of people in the middle of nowhere expecting to live stream their Elton John experience to friends and family.

“COWs allow us to install a telecoms network in a matter of days to deliver this experience, but also makes sure we leave no permanent mark on the landscape. We can flex our network in and out, to deliver a reliable digital experience wherever our customers are.”

A basic guide to Vodafone UK’s network

Vodafone UK's high-speed network is state-of-the-art, the result of billions in investment over the last five years. But how do all the parts fit together?

Each COW is fitted with several technologies to deliver digital services to customers. This includes the radio antenna so smartphones can receive data and phone calls, as well as microwave technology to connect the COW to the rest of the Vodafone network. The microwave technology means Vodafone does not necessarily have to dig a trench through the countryside to connect the mast with fibre optic cabling.

The importance of upload speeds as well as download

Festivals and special events also indicate customers use connectivity services slightly differently from our day-to-day lives.

On average across the events Vodafone has supported in 2023, upload data (when users are sending information to someone else or the cloud) was roughly 19% of the total transmitted across the network. For day-to-day usage, Vodafone would expect upload data to be roughly 10% of the total data usage.

This data usage demonstrates that customers are sharing their experiences with friends and family more frequently at festivals and other events than they would in normal life.

Dona said: “Connectivity is a way to bring people together when they are miles apart, and we are constantly evolving how we build temporary networks to ensure it is configured in a way that supports how customers want and need to use digital.”

Stay up-to-date with the very latest news from Vodafone by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn and signing up for News Centre website notifications.


Notes to Editor

Why can’t Vodafone install permanent infrastructure in locations for annual events?

Vodafone is constantly enhancing its existing network and expanding coverage by building new sites across the UK. This is done through several initiatives aside from building its own infrastructure, including working with other telecoms companies through the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, as well as with partners such as BAI who provide neutral hosting infrastructure.

Building a telecommunications network is a time-consuming and incredibly expensive activity. Vodafone has to prioritise the deployment of new mobile phone masts in places where it would make the biggest impact. This means closing “not spots” and strengthening the network in the places people live and work throughout the year.

For annual events that take place over a matter of days, like Glastonbury, it would not make sense to build permanent infrastructure for two reasons:

  1. The infrastructure would not be used for the vast majority of the year – it makes more sense to invest in permanent infrastructure that is used more widely throughout the year.
  2. Vodafone wants to minimise the impact on the UK landscape and only install permanent infrastructure where and when it is needed most. By using temporary infrastructure, Vodafone can support special events for a short period of time, then leave the landscape as it was found.

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.

What radio technology is on a temporary mast?

The technology on each mast would be dependent on the specifics of the event in question. For example, it would depend on how many people are expected to attend, how much support would be required for vendors, the geographic size of the event, as well as how many temporary masts are going to be installed.

Each mast would have technology on it to deliver 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G connectivity, as well as microwave technology to connect the mast to the wider Vodafone network and core network. Busier events may also see Massive MIMO technology installed on the mast.

Each configuration of a temporary mast is unique to the event in question. Depending on the variables, a number of different spectrum bands may be used to deliver the best possible digital experience for customers and partners.

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 … Continued

How long does it take to set up a temporary mast?

The time it takes to set up a mast depends on the local environment. In some of the more extreme rural environments, Vodafone would have to set up tracks to get the equipment to the specified location.

Even before the mast is physically installed, there is weeks (and sometimes months) worth of work to assess the area to understand how many temporary masts would be required and the optimum location of those sites. This process includes flying drones to understand the line of site for microwave equipment to connect the site to Vodafone’s wider network and core network, as well as assessing how people would move around the event once it is open to the public. Some areas of the event are more popular than others, and there will also be requirements from the vendors and broadcasters at the event, as well as security and first responders who staff the event.

Generally speaking, it takes three days to set up a temporary mast. This includes erecting the mast itself and installing the radio equipment on the mast. This is not a simple undertaking and will involve engineers having to climb the mast itself. Due to health and safety, this process can be delayed by adverse weather conditions.

About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester and now have 5G in locations across Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain as well as the UK. Meanwhile, our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. Vodafone is the largest provider of full fibre in the UK – our superfast broadband services are now available to nearly 12 million homes across the UK.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

For more information about Vodafone UK, please visit:

Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 693 693


Twitter: @VodafoneUKNews


Vodafone Limited

Registered Office: Vodafone House, The Connection, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2FN

Registered in England No: 1471587