Operator Vodafone UK is installing small antennae below street level, under manhole covers, to help improve its 4G/LTE mobile network coverage in busy urban areas. This equipment can be installed with minimum inconvenience to the local community, as no street-disrupting construction work is required.
The manhole-cover antennae are connected using the operator’s fiber converged network, which spans the U.K. According to the operator, can be upgraded easily for a future 5G network. The solution has debuted in the city of Newbury, and Vodafone has installed two types of mobile-enabled manhole covers at its office and technology center there. One is a purpose-built reinforced unit about the size of a water barrel sunk into the ground, and the other uses an existing cast-iron manhole cover. These devices can carry calls and enable high-speed internet access over a 200-meter radius.
Outside Newbury, Vodafone is also looking to deploy 4G/LTE antennae under its own manhole covers—which the operator acquired through its takeover in 2012 of Cable & Wireless Worldwide—as well as those of utility providers across the country.
Even in some of the most advanced mobile markets, mobile “not-spots” and other coverage issues continue to plague users. The U.K. is a well-known example of this persistent problem, and Vodafone is apparently responding to it, with a technological innovation that seems to combine low cost with low impact—a felicitous combination for operator and customers alike.
Leveraging its own fiber converged network, the operator is deploying a means of boosting its network’s signal at specific points where coverage has been a problem, without needing to build towers. Small antennae, invisible to residents because they are underground, are being used to accomplish the same goal, at much lower cost and without impinging on the urban environment.
In the rollout of this technology, the manhole sites belong to the operator, a strategic use of resources from a the acquisition of a cable entity. But Vodafone’s future plans involve underground locations belonging to various utility companies across the U.K. This arrangement will greatly extend the system’s reach, and as such represents a very valid partnership concept.
If the solution really does end up improving Vodafone’s LTE network coverage, to the point where it is noticeable by the average user, it will give the operator competitive advantage over its rivals, which would drive revenue by causing an increase in new subscribers. Revenue will also be increased if existing users consume more services due to the increased coverage.