Vodafone goes mini on the big question of rural connectivity

5G might be the hot topic for 2018, but Vodafone’s successful trial of a new 4G mini mobile mast reminds us the telcos haven’t finished their 4G mission just yet.

The trial itself took place in Porthcurno on the southern Cornish coast of the UK, with the team claiming to have demonstrated mobile data speeds of more than 200Mbps, as well as a strong voice signal. What these speeds actually look like when the mast is available for use of the general public remain to be seen, but it is certainly a positive step forward for the digital have-nots of the UK.

The telescopic mini mast is eight metres high when extended to its tallest point, roughly half the height of a traditional mast. It takes six months to get up and running, a third of the time with the full-size masts, and does not require a technology cabinet to house the power supply and electronics.

“We’re working hard to connect customers across the UK and our new mini mast will help provide 4G in places where other networks struggle to reach, while minimising the visual and environmental impact,” said Vodafone UK’s Chief Technology Officer Scott Petty.

“It forms part of our major investment in our network and services to provide our customers reliable coverage where they live, work and travel.”

The mini mast at Vodafone HQ when we visited last year

The mini mast at Vodafone HQ when we visited last year

When telcos such as Vodafone are simultaneously launching gigacities while also trialling product to bring basic 4G connectivity to rural locations, you can see why there is frustrations from the farmers. Mobile World Congress is just around the corner, where the imminent commercial launch of 5G will be a crucial talking point, but the people Porthcurno have just been gifted the glories of strong voice signal for the first time. The contrast is quite striking.

Some sceptical individuals might think the digital divide is nothing more than a myth created by those troublesome activists who love finding new sticks to beat the telcos, but those individuals are likely to be the ones who rarely venture outside of the M25. Abysmal connectivity in some communities across the UK is an equation the telcos have never been able to balance, as the lucrative urban environments will always win out in the profit-hungry boardrooms.

“The quality of mobile phone signal in West Cornwall is a subject that is regularly raised with me, as is the need to protect and preserve our countryside,” said Derek Thomas, MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. “This new mast offers the opportunity to reduce the visual impact of phone masts, whilst addressing people’s desire for improved connectivity.”

The fact it is Vodafone launching such an offering should come as little surprise. While it has been known as one of the better performers in the capital, Vodafone is commonly associated with poor signal and performance anywhere else.

The mini mast is a good idea from Vodafone and serves as a timely reality check for those who are getting swept up in the 5G euphoria. This might be the technology which will keep the telcos above the rising tide of utilization, but the 4G rollout is not finished yet.

One comment

  1. Avatar James Body 15/02/2018 @ 4:44 pm

    The decision to deploy this technology to Porthcurno would have nothing to do with it being David Cameron’s favourite UK Holiday destination – and one famous for being a mobile Not-Spot would it?

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