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Fibre-connected 5G-enabled antennae will help to build the foundation for smart cities
Vodafone is lifting the lid on manhole covers from the Victorian era to put in place the mobile infrastructure for tomorrow. Small antennae are then being installed below street level to help improve 4G mobile coverage for customers in urban areas. It is also targeting new manhole covers.
As well as improve 4G coverage now, Vodafone says it will enable them to more easily upgrade to 5G in the future and the fibre-connected 5G-enabled small antennae can form foundation on which to build smart cities.
The company has been using a number of innovative ways to increase the speed and extend the coverage of a mobile signal along busy roads, town squares and in shopping and entertainment areas. It is also housing mobile equipment within street furniture such as lamp-posts and phone boxes.
Vodafone claims the manhole cover antennae can be installed with minimal disruption to local people – no street works or construction – and without changing the look of the area, as the kit is below ground.
Antennae are connected using Vodafone’s all fibre high speed converged network across the UK, which also supports other mobile technologies, home broadband, Internet of Things (IoT) and business services.
5G connectivity will allow connected traffic lights instantly to reroute road traffic around congestion, councils automatically to schedule repairs for broken infrastructure like street lighting, and businesses to manage how much energy they use intelligently.
“It is great to be able to use yesterday’s infrastructure – from phone boxes to manhole covers – to deliver the services of tomorrow”
Vodafone has installed two types of mobile-enabled manhole covers at its Newbury office and technology centre. One of these is a purpose-built, reinforced unit similar in size to a water butt sunk into the ground, and the other uses an existing cast iron manhole cover. They can carry calls and provide fast internet access over a 200m radius without consuming much power.
In addition to Newbury, Vodafone is looking to roll out 4G under both its own manhole covers, inherited as part of its acquisition of Cable & Wireless Worldwide in 2012, and those of utility providers across the UK.
It is already fitting the roofs of traditional phone boxes with small 4G antennae, starting in Princes Street, Edinburgh in time for the Hogmanay celebrations. Using phone boxes to house antennae is also useful for extending 4G in areas of outstanding beauty and remote places where a mobile mast is difficult to install as they rely on a power supply and fibre optic cable connections.
“It is great to be able to use yesterday’s infrastructure – from phone boxes to manhole covers – to deliver the services of tomorrow,” said Vodafone UK chief executive, Nick Jeffery. “This is one of the ways we are extending our 4G services to areas other networks cannot reach, and getting ready for 5G.”
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