Cranborne in Dorset has a problem: the lie of the land means it's been without mobile signal for as long as the community can remember. But not any more...
“There was a car parked just across the street from the Post Office, and a young guy came down the hill in his. He’d been out playing squash, but he’s diabetic and had low blood sugar, resulting in tunnel vision, so he never saw the car. He hit it at 30mph, flipping onto the roof, while the parked car went over and smashed into the wall of the post office. No one could call the emergency services on their mobile phone, and the pub was shut as it was late.”
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Stories like that are why David Blake and the residents of Cranborne, a small village in Dorset, are thrilled to have the benefits of a Vodafone mobile phone signal for the first time. The village has become one of the first in our pioneering trial to bring mobile reception to a select bunch of the UK’s most notorious ‘not-spots’, so we popped down for a chat with some members of the community to find out how things have changed.
How do you inject mobile signal into a place where it’s never been before? Read on to find out.
Making a case
“I got a text while I was in here on my phone on Monday,” says David, (the community’s mobile champion and Project Development Officer for Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs) as we’re sat in the local pub.
“That’s the first text I’ve had here for probably two years.” That’s because Cranborne, like some other rural areas of the UK, has historically been a black hole when it comes to mobile reception.
“The village has been a not-spot for mobile phone communications since the last ice age,” he jokes. “Not-spots are incredibly hard to deliver services to. They’re really resistant to change because they’re normally caused by geography.” Cranborne’s no different; it sits in a geographical basin, which makes it impossible for signal to hit home through regular means. And that’s exactly why it made the perfect candidate for our open femtocell trial.
“I received an email from a colleague saying I might be interested in this Vodafone initiative,” David says, explaining the process that’s seen Cranborne become one of our open femtocell trial locations. “I thought it was interesting, so I hammered out an initial expression of interest and didn’t think much would come of it. To be told that we were through to the second stage was really exciting. I gathered evidence from the community and our Parish Plan, in which both young people and local businesses had said the lack of mobile signal was a real pain. With the community’s backing, I put together a plan.”
With the parish and local MP Bob Walter on David’s side, Cranborne became an obvious choice for the trial.
Let there be signal
Thankfully for a designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ such as this, the open femtocell masts now dotted around Cranborne are so subtle that you’d easily miss them if you weren’t trying hard to spot them.
There are five in total, affixed to the roofs of one of the local pubs, a restaurant, the garden centre, the sports centre and the village hall. These tiny antennas share signal duties between each other and, together, mean that Vodafone customers should get a signal when they’re out and about Cranborne.
And that’s a far cry from the rest of its mobile history. “If you stood on the top of the slide in the park you might be able to get signal,” Parish council member David Elliott explained to us, while Gavin Fauvel, local resident land agent for the Cranborne Estate, said that the only other method was to drive away from the village. “There’s a lay-by up the hill,” he said, “and quite often you’d see people in their cars trying to get signal there.”
The car accident outside the Post Office is just one example of how the arrival of a mobile signal in Cranborne will change things; the community has taken to its newfound connectivity incredibly quickly.
“The general feeling is really positive,” David explains. “The signal came on really quickly. So I rushed round with some maps to explain where the signal would reach, and an explanation about why it’s happened, who’s provided it, and any queries along with my phone number, and no one’s rung up with any worries yet.”
“I can name a number of people locally who want to switch to Vodafone now,” Gavin adds. “I know that on the Saturday when the femtocells were switched on, a bunch of people drove to the Vodafone shop in Salisbury to upgrade their phone and make sure it worked.”
Doing better business
Jane Gould owns the Inn at Cranborne, which boasts a selection of guest rooms all sitting under one of the newly fitted femtocell antennas. Unsurprisingly, she’s a big fan of the new tech. “I’m trying to attract new business,” she says. “And attract a corporate crowd, who just haven’t been interested because of the lack of signal.
“Before the femtocell trial I couldn’t get hold of staff and I wasn’t contactable in an emergency.”
“I’ve been to Ayers Rock and there’s signal. I came to Cranborne for business but it never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be signal here. Suddenly I found myself running the renovation project of the pub, and would have to drive out of the village ten times a day to try and find signal.”
“I’ve got a landline, but before the femtocell trial I couldn’t get hold of staff and I wasn’t contactable in an emergency. Sometimes you’d have guests checking in who were late and couldn’t get in, who couldn’t get hold of us.”
“Jane found it really difficult when someone rang up wanting to book a room for the weekend, only to then realise that they wouldn’t be able to speak to their babysitter, or children, etc.,” adds David. “That kind of stuff means they’d have to go somewhere else.”
Similarly, local businesses like Gavin’s, which had suffered in the past, are now feeling the full benefit of having mobile connectivity for the first time. “On the farm, we’ve had working issues where it’s not been possible to give employees mobile phones – they’ve had to carry heavy UHF two-way radios with a buddy system. Now, having a mobile with them where they can send a quick text is so much better.”
And it’s not just businesses that are developing. Around the table, Cranborne’s locals all echoed the sentiment that having mobile signal is going to make a big difference both socially, and in terms of safety, too. “The middle school had to shut for snow for a few days last year, and it took them nearly three hours to ring everyone as they had to ring each parent individually,” say David. “Now they can send out one text message.
“Socially, it’s incredibly important.”
It’s been brilliant to see the difference that mobile signal has made to people living in Cranborne, but this is just the start: The village is just one of 11 UK communities set to feel the benefit of mobile connectivity for the first time thanks to our ‘open femto’ trials. Stay tuned to Vodafone Social for the inside story on the others as they get switched on.
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