Vodafone is looking for 12 rural communities in the UK to test the capabilities of femtocells to improve 3G coverage.
The company, which is working with Alcatel-Lucent on the project, plans to launch the trial early next year with the installation of femtocells in suitable locations within village communities, such as telephone kiosks and pubs.
The Alcatel-Lucent-made femtocells, which will be open to any Vodafone subscriber, will be based upon Vodafone's current residential unit, Sure Signal, but with these new, second-generation units providing improved reliability. The BT fixed-line network will be used for backhaul.
"Hundreds of thousands of people across the country use Vodafone Sure Signal every day to boost their 3G signal at home," Vodafone UK CEO Guy Lawrence said in a statement. "Now we are extending this groundbreaking femtocell technology to make a real difference to rural communities. Bringing mobile coverage and the benefits of the mobile Internet to rural areas involves not just us, but local people, politicians and other infrastructure players all working together."
Vodafone has confirmed that Alcatel-Lucent also plans to test other technology, such as residential broadband, to support the overall effort to improve rural mobile coverage. The UK operator has already conducted limited tests using these outdoor femtocells in a rural village close to Vodafone's UK head office.
Separately, the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has issued a report claiming that 3G networks from all the major operators were not available to 27 per cent of UK homes and offices. While UK operators are obliged to cover 80 per cent of the UK they are free to choose the areas that are thought to be most profitable. This impacts rural coverage, with Ofcom estimating that only 13 per cent of the UK landmass has access to 3G networks.
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