Churches partner with Vodafone to enhance rural coverage

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Vodafone and Net CS have joined forces to embark on an ambitious project to enhance mobile technology in 11 Church of England parish churches across the country.

The primary goal of this partnership is to provide robust and reliable 4G coverage to rural communities in the vicinity of these historic churches.

The first phase of the project has already been completed, with the installation of the new mobile technology at two churches: the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brompton Regis, Somerset, and St Michael & All Angels in Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire.

Following the successful launch of these sites, nine more locations are set to be activated in the coming months:

  • St Mary, Elsing, Norfolk
  • St Mary and St Bartholomew, Cranborne, Dorset
  • St Thomas of Canterbury, Thorverton, Devon
  • St Cyr and Julitta, Newton St Cyres, Devon
  • St Mary the Virgin, Martham, Norfolk
  • All Saints, Broad Chalke, Wiltshire
  • St Nicolas, Elmdon, Essex
  • All Saints, Croxton, Norfolk
  • St Michael and All Angels, Whitwell, Norfolk

Churches have been identified as strategic sites for improving mobile coverage due to their central and elevated positions within communities. Such locations offer an ideal vantage point to distribute signals efficiently, particularly in areas that have historically struggled with quality mobile coverage.

Andrea Dona, Network and Development Director at Vodafone UK, said:

“Churches are typically very tall, on high ground and close to the community we’re trying to connect. This makes them the perfect place to install a mobile site, and now we’ve developed technology that’s small enough not to spoil the appearance of the church.

Our aim is to use this cutting-edge technology to improve mobile coverage in as many rural locations as possible. This is an important step in ensuring rural communities can enjoy all the benefits of mobile connectivity.” 

The key innovation that made this project possible is the use of OpenRAN technology, a radio access network system that enables collaboration between cellular network equipment from different vendors.

Net CS has designed the church installations using a neutral host format, allowing them to be connected to multiple network operators, maximising the benefit to the local communities.

The company has demonstrated its expertise in deploying coverage in church environments, ensuring the preservation of heritage assets like ancient church buildings. Their in-depth knowledge in this area has been crucial in the successful implementation of the project.

Vodafone’s commitment to OpenRAN deployment is part of its broader effort to improve both 5G and 4G mobile coverage throughout the UK and bridge the digital divide. By partnering with Net CS and leveraging the OpenRAN technology, Vodafone aims to extend its mobile coverage to remote rural locations where connectivity has been a longstanding challenge.

Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, commented:

“This project is an example of the many ways churches benefit their local communities. As well as delivering better mobile coverage, the improved connectivity achieved through these new church-based sites helps combat the social justice issue of poor connectivity which affects many residents in rural areas.

The key consideration for us has always been the wishes of local communities, who have been widely supportive of these new sites. Net CS, our infrastructure facilitator, ensures that the new installations are unobtrusive, safe for our congregations and the wider community, and will deliver benefits to church users and the whole community.”

According to Peter Morrell-Brown, Chairman of Net CS, this project is just the beginning of a broader effort to utilise churches as key elements in the nationwide solution to mobile coverage gaps.

The infrastructure put in place by Net CS is open for use by any operator, offering a potential resolution to a significant portion of the UK’s mobile coverage challenges.

By combining innovative OpenRAN technology with strategic church locations, the initiative seeks to deliver better connectivity, bridge the digital divide, and create a stronger, more connected society for all.

(Photo by S Turby on Unsplash)

See also: Vodafone and Three announce UK merger

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