Vodafone is lifting the lid on manhole covers to install small antennas below street level to help improve 4G mobile coverage for customers in busy urban areas.
Vodafone is using inventive ways to expand and strengthen its network including housing mobile equipment within street furniture such as manhole covers, lamp-posts and phone boxes to increase the speed and extend the coverage of a mobile signal along busy roads, town squares and in shopping and entertainment areas.
The manhole cover antennas 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, says Vodafone. They are connected using Vodafone’s all fibre high speed converged network across the UK, which also supports other technologies including home broadband, Internet of Things (IoT) and business services.
By connecting the manhole covers to this network, Vodafone can provide 4G coverage now, and easily upgrade them to 5G in the future. These fibre-connected 5G-enabled small antennas are the foundation on which connected smart cities will be built.
5G connectivity will allow connected traffic lights to reroute road traffic around congestion, councils to automatically schedule repairs for broken infrastructure like street lighting, and businesses to manage how much energy they use intelligently.
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 200 metre 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 antennas, starting in Princes Street, Edinburgh – a popular shopping and tourist destination – in time for the Hogmanay celebrations.
Vodafone UK Chief Executive Nick Jeffery said: “We are committed to providing customers with the best network possible by drawing on our strengths in innovation and strong UK heritage. It is great to be able to use yesterday’s infrastructure – from phone boxes to manhole covers – to deliver the services of tomorrow. This is one of the ways we are extending our 4G services to areas other networks cannot reach, and getting ready for 5G.”