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Vodafone UK Share Unused 4G Spectrum for Rural Broadband

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 (8:33 am) - Score 2,879
vodafone_mimo_antenna_mast_mobile

Mobile network operator Vodafone UK has, in somewhat of an “industry first,” agreed to help extend Mobile Broadband coverage by sharing some of its “unused” 4G radio spectrum with StrattoOpencell (part of the Digital Colony UK Infrastructure Platform) in order to offer high-speed data in “remote areas without fibre connectivity.”

Under the plan – part of a 3 year agreement – StrattoOpencell will get to use Vodafone’s 2600MHz (2.6GHz) frequency spectrum to offer mobile broadband speeds of “up to 120Mbps” to consumers and businesses without access to a fixed fibre broadband ISP service. Meanwhile the mobile giant will continue to use the same band in order to provide greater mobile capacity for customers in busy areas, such as stadiums and city centres.

The change has been made possible by Ofcom’s recent decision to adopt a new spectrum sharing framework (here), which among other things has made it possible for smaller mobile and fixed wireless broadband ISP networks to be created in order to deliver local coverage or industrial use.

One possible caveat above is that the 2.6GHz band is one of the higher frequency ones for 4G mobile connectivity, which means that related signals don’t tend to travel as far and struggle more to penetrate into buildings. As such the band isn’t usually ideal for rural coverage, although it may help when reaching customers who are nearer to its cell sites.

All of this helps to explain why StrattoOpencell will initially use the spectrum to provide broadband services to all users at a holiday site in Devon through the deployment of 4G outdoor small cells. As such this isn’t so much about providing wide mobile broadband coverage, but rather establishing smaller networks in remote areas for a specific purpose.

NOTE: The Digital Colony UK Infrastructure Platform will soon become The Freshwave Group.

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said:

“Vodafone has a long history of innovation, from sending the first text message to conducting the first 5G holographic call. We are delighted to become the first mobile company in the UK to share some of our spectrum to extend rural coverage.

By offering some of our 4G spectrum to StrattoOpencell, we are helping to extend fast and reliable mobile network access for people in rural communities. Mobile connectivity in rural areas is just as important as it is for those in towns and cities, which is why we continue to work with others to help improve rural connectivity for all.”

Graham Payne, CEO of The Digital Colony UK Infrastructure Platform, added:

“There remains a digital divide in connectivity options for those in UK’s urban centres and more rural areas. We are delighted to join forces with Vodafone to bring a fresh approach to close this gap. We are pioneering new solutions and services as part of our neutral host approach to UK digital infrastructure, in order to connect more people and businesses to reliable networks.

This new model takes the industry a significant step closer to enabling ubiquitous UK connectivity.”

Vodafone, not unlike other operators, has somewhat of a history when it comes to testing innovative approaches. Some examples include installing 5G on an existing TV and radio transmission tower on the Isles of Scilly and deploying mini mobile masts in Cornwall, as well as transforming some of BT’s old beachfront phone boxes in order to use them as 4G cell sites.

Naturally Ofcom has welcomed the move and said they “look forward to seeing how others use our new spectrum access approach.” However some operators fear that Ofcom’s change may also act to drive-up the price of spectrum in future auctions for new bands, which could be counter-productive to the roll-out of improved national mobile connectivity. As it stands this is a new area and a lot of unknowns still exist.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. Avatar Michael V

    This is a good start. Well done vodafone for providing spectrum to another company for rural broadband.

  2. Avatar Mark

    How will it work in rural areas where masts are usually a distance away from the area there trying cover? That high frequency surely it wouldn’t travel far, say for instance the Cotswold town I live, two and half miles from a mast, thick Cotswold stone buildings and streets.

    • The clue is in the article (small cells etc.) and Ofcom’s framework, which is focused on deployments of smaller local networks that may only cover 50 metres.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Is there any benefit in using the 4G frequencies Vodafone are making available rather than any of the other frequencies available for fixed wireless networks?

  3. Avatar tim

    I don’t get it. Why don’t Vodafone just make use of the spectrum they have paid a lot for?!

    Really need to see Vodafone deploying LTE-A!!!

    • Avatar Ryan

      Vodafone LTE-A is usually 800 + 2100, the only time you rely see 2600 on Vodafone is in major urban area or other high load areas, outside of them area if Vodafone got LTE-A is normally just 800 + 2100.

      In rural and other non high load aVF is probably not interested deploying 2600 anytime soon.

    • Avatar JAMES BODY

      Simple – Vodafone do not have a technical solution that makes sense commercially for deployment in sparsely populated rural areas; I.e. the cost of deployment and operation exceeds the revenues gained.

      If the financial case does not stack up, then there is little incentive, other than the Government requirements for coverage obligations to do so.

  4. Avatar Mark

    Not a clue really, the town is opposed to all mobile phone signals so local network won’t work, they won’t get planning permission.

  5. Avatar James Body

    @Mark – Can you clarify the reasoning behind the comment “ However some operators fear that Ofcom’s change may also act to drive-up the price of spectrum in future auctions for new bands” in your last paragraph?

    I would have thought that widespread availability of mobile spectrum under the OFCOM Local Access Licencing procedures will remove the major financial barrier to entry that previously existed?

    • Avatar Mark

      They oppose mobile phone masts and any radio transmission equipment in the Town, they have stopped all masts being built and a local Wi-Fi network being installed, they are rejected because AONB and Attaching equipment to Grade one listed buildings etc, the last mast planning applications where rejected with over 700 objections, they don’t want technology in the Town and all landowners in the area agree, so we are stuck, so other places with only a few hundred are getting the benefits we are getting left behind. But it’s not like that everywhere in the Cotswolds, just this inward looking town.

  6. Avatar JAMES BODY

    Another point (that our colleagues in OFCOM frequently remind us) is that the MNOs do not ‘own’ the mobile spectrum; it is a national resource for which the MNOs have a licence to use. However, these UK wide licences are not exclusive, so OFCOM reserves the right to issue additional licences to third parties, particularly in areas where the MNOs are not using the spectrum and have no plans to do so.

    As someone who lives in a ‘Not Spot’ in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it always annoyed me that despite there being more spectrum than ever before being allocated to cellular mobile communications, NONE of it was being used and there was no mechanism to allow anyone else to do so – with the result that large chunks of spectrum were lying ‘fallow’. What the new Local Access Licencing does is open the door for innovative solutions to the mobile coverage challenge that simply could not happen without out access to the spectrum that normal consumer devices use.

    Congratulations to OFCOM for coming up with a mechanism to make better use of valuable unused spectrum – and well done Vodafone for realising the benefits that can be gained from fully supporting this initiative!

  7. Avatar Terry O'Toole

    “One possible caveat above is that the 2.6GHz band is one of the higher frequency ones for 4G mobile connectivity, which means that related signals don’t tend to travel as far and struggle more to penetrate into buildings. As such the band isn’t usually ideal for rural coverage, although it may help when reaching customers who are nearer to its cell sites.”

    If the infrastructure is connecting customers with point-to-point links then the issues should not be a major issue. Until a couple of years ago, Ireland had a long licenced MMDS TV services on these same frequencies. Reception was with a rooftop aerial that looked a lot like a WiFi point-to-point antenna. The transmitting station was on a high site locally which usually had a coverage radius of 15 to 20 miles or more depending on the terrain. For a FWA rural broadband system on 2.6GHz a high-ish site in around the target area I’d imagine should be able to give 3 to 5 miles coverage radius using a fixed outdoor antenna, with some Irish MMDS like setups in some very isolated areas being used in a few cases. It’s good to see MNOs being able to sub-lease licenced bandwidth to local businesses and community groups for local BB schemes when the networks are unlikely to be using that spectrum any time in the future outside of urban and semi-urban areas.

  8. Avatar T. Watkins

    Hats off to all rural providers who gain digitally divided customer wallet share through innovative ,cost competitive, agile & easy to deploy solutions.

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