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Vodafone: Innovation will eliminate not-spots

Monday, November 17th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

People expect to be “constantly connected wherever they are” which will mean networks will have to look at innovative solutions, a Vodafone expert has said.

Dr Rob Matthews, senior community manager at the operator, said different solutions for connectivity suit different areas.

Dr Matthews's comments come as Vodafone last week unveiled Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire as the first of 30 initial communities to received 3G mobile coverage under the Vodafone Rural Open Sure Signal Programme.

The programme, known as ROSS, uses "femtocell" technology to provide an alternative solution bringing mobile access to places where networks cannot provide coverage in traditional ways.

Speaking to Cable.co.uk, Dr Matthews said: “I think everyone is now expecting to be able to get coverage almost on a universal basis and meeting the demands of businesses is very important to us and that is why we have a range of solutions that can obviously deliver business coverage.

"But we have a range of solutions that can deliver community coverage such as ROSS and normal sure signal that can then help people out on a very localised basis to ensure that they can be constantly connected.”

He said ROSS is one of several solutions the company is using to try to fulfil its pledge to provide coverage using 2G, 3G or 4G to 98% of the UK population.

It builds on Vodafone's domestic Sure Signal project, which was designed to boost connectivity in homes where there was no coverage but a broadband connection.

Dr Matthews said: “What we wanted to be able to do was take that device, put it outside, slightly ramp up the power so it covers a wider area, and open it up to every Vodafone customer.

“And that’s where effectively we can turn something that was the size of a router into something the size of a cereal box.

"We can mount it on the ends of people’s buildings, you can mount it on churches, chimney pots, you name it really. Where you can put a satellite dish, you can basically put one of these devices.

“All you really need is a broadband connection which connects the device up to the rest of the network and physical electrical power and in reality you can create a network.

“The advantage is that potentially you won’t have to go through a lengthy planning process, where you’re trying to put masts into areas of outstanding natural beauty, maybe in the past where you can put these, like you would do with a satellite dish on the front of a house.

“But actually these are more discreet because we can colour code them as well to match brickwork."

Vodafone's initial Open Sure Signal trial saw the connection of 12 rural communities across the UK, from Walls in the Shetland Islands to Newston St Cyres in Devon.

Minchinhampton, which suffered from unreliable coverage, is the first of 30 initial communities to take part in the company's Rural Open Sure Signal Programme. Other locations include the Isle of Luing in Argyll, Pomeroy in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, and Bryneglwys in Denbighshire, Wales.

The ROSS programme, launched in July, aims to provide reliable mobile access to up to 100 rural communities in mobile not-spot locations – areas where there is little or no mobile coverage – over the next 12 months.

It comes amid ongoing debate over rural not-spots and partial not-spots.

The UK government, which has launched a consultation on how to eradicate partial not-spots, has proposed national roaming - where a user can roam to another network if their own is not available - as one of four potential methods of boosting mobile coverage.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also suggested infrastructure sharing and handsets that can access all networks (known as dual-SIM) as potential coverage boosters. Another option is that the operators decide themselves how best to improve signal.

Asked about the issue, Dr Matthews said: ‘We want to provide coverage to our customers. We have a network plan that’s going to deliver 98% coverage to our customers, we have solutions such as ROSS that are going to keep delivering coverage to our customers.

“I think it’s important that we continue along that route, to keep innovating, to keep delivery solutions that are going to keep delivering coverage to our solutions, than anything else.

He added: “We absolutely understand our customers’ desire to be able to be constantly connected wherever they are and wherever they go and we’re working hard to be able to deliver that.

“And I think at the end of the day that’s where we need to be placing our innovations with things such as ROSS that keep offering coverage into rural locations where perhaps people might not have expected them in the past.

“And we’ll keep continuing to do that to ensure that our customers remain connected.”

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