Vodafone UK ready to extend rural femtocell programme to plug coverage gaps

Vodafone UK revealed it is going head-to-head with rival EE in a bid to bring connectivity to rural towns and villages that currently sit in so-called 'not spots'.

The operator today announced it is expanding a femtocell-based scheme designed to deliver 3G connectivity to rural towns and villages that currently receive poor or no coverage. In a statement emailed to FierceWireless:Europe, Vodafone UK said it has shortlisted the next 40 communities that applied to be a part of its Rural Open Sure Signal programme, which was established in July 2014 with the goal of connecting 100 rural communities.

Vodafone's statement explained that such communities have suffered from unreliable mobile coverage and slow connection speeds for reasons including "the geography of the area, or difficulties with planning permissions [for cell sites] in places of outstanding natural beauty."

The operator explained that the first rural community was connected up to its femtocell-based network in November, and that it is working with the other communities that submitted successful applications to assess their needs before commencing further installation work.

Rival EE revealed a similar programme in December, pledging to cover 1,500 rural villages with a femtocell-based network by 2017. The company has already connected its first rural community, and plans to ramp up its deployments through 2015. EE's micro networks are designed for communities of between 100 and 150 premises, and can cover an area of 0.5 square miles using three or four small antennas that then communicate to the nearest macro network site.

The UK government in December announced a "landmark" deal with the nation's mobile operators to plug coverage gaps. Operators agreed to invest £5 billion (€6.5 billion/$7.5 billion) into mobile infrastructure improvements by 2017 to achieve 90 per cent coverage for voice and SMS services, and 85 per cent coverage for 3G and 4G services.

Mobile operators also agreed to provide reliable signal strength for voice services across 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. The whole deal will be overseen by regulator Ofcom.

The voluntary coverage deal laid to rest plans by the UK government to cover not-spots by requiring operators to pool their resources under a national roaming agreement--a plan all four UK operators said would be unworkable due to technical and legal reasons.

For more:
- see this Vodafone UK statement

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