We're pushing forwards with our pioneering open femto trial around the UK. How do you bring mobile signal to a place where there is none? Read on to find out.
Imagine you’re a keen cyclist – one who often tours the country to take part in cycling events and festivals. Wherever you go, you’d probably expect to be able to post your times online, or to text your friends about how difficult it was on the old thigh muscles. But, until this year, that’s been one of the Newcastleton Cycling Festival’s downfalls – as a natural not-spot, the Scottish village has always been bereft of mobile phone signal. Until now…
Newcastleton is a small village just north of the Scottish border, and it’s just become the latest place in our pioneering ‘open femto’ trial, which aims to bring reliable Vodafone signal to some of the UK’s most notorious ‘not-spots’. To celebrate the system going live, the Newcastleton community invited us up to a gathering to check out how having signal for the first time is making a difference to people’s lives.
Welcome to the community
“I’m fortunate enough that we live in a community where everyone pulls together, and I don’t think it would have happened were it not for the locations that have graciously donated their buildings for each open femto unit to get the system going.” Those are the words of Barbara Elborn, Newcaslteton’s ‘community champion’ for the open femto trial.
Barbara first applied when we launched the initial search back in 2011. Since then we’ve managed to whittle the list down to eleven worthy locations from a list of over 170, Newcastleton being one of them. Vodafone’s team of technicians has now fixed open femtocell antennas to several spots around Newcastleton, and at the beginning of April this year the system was switched on, providing reliable coverage around the local area for Vodafone customers. And, as Barbara tells us, it’s been timed perfectly:
“This weekend is the start of one of our village events – the cycling festival. There’ll be 120-150 participants doing the Cyclosportive over the weekend. They’ve come here mainly because of the challenges and the beautiful scenery, but these people will also have come to expect that whenever they go anywhere they’ve got connectivity 24/7, because that’s what it’s all about now.
“Having Vodafone to enhance that for us is a huge leap forward,” she says.
Just as with our trial in Cranborne, Newcastleton’s been gifted its new connectivity by a squad of our unique open femto antennas. These white boxes, each of which is small enough to fit into a carry-on suitcase, use the same technology as the smaller Vodafone Sure Signal box; each one acts as a mini base station that amplifies mobile signal in the immediate area. They’re completely safe, and completely unobtrusive.
“News of the new tech has travelled at lightning pace.
The units are attached to some of Newcastleton’s most important buildings, such as the fire station, the community centre and local pub/hotel The Grapes, but you’d have to go really go looking for them to spot them.
Hidden as they are, though, news of the new tech has travelled at lightning pace. Barbara explains: “I know already, even though the system only really got switched on yesterday, that lots of members of the public and community are using it already. We’ve had examples of tradesmen who’ve gone and bought a second phone in order to check in and order parts.
“The local trades – electricians, plumbers and the small businesses – have got two phones now, and are trying to bring that down to just one – on Vodafone. That’s not anecdotal, that’s reality.”
Important for the Borders
That’s great to hear, but it gets better: the news had spread much further afield than just to the local tradesmen and villagers. Michael Moore, MP for the Borders and Secretary of State for Scotland (pictured centre with Barbara), made a special appearance at the Newcastleton gathering to champion the new tech:
“I’ve been an MP for more than 15 years,” he said, “and one of the biggest issues that people have been worried about in that time is the lack of access to mobile phone signal – particularly the data signals which are now a big part of our lives around the country.
“I’m delighted that Vodafone has brought forward this new technology and is trialling it here in Newcastleton,” Michael told us, “because it could be life transforming.
“This allows people to go about their lives the way people can in other parts of the country.”
“What this allows people do to here in Newcastleton is to go about their lives the way people can in other parts of the country. It means visitors will be able to enjoy the experiences they can anywhere else, and that’s great because it stops us losing people to other parts of the country, but even better for people who live here all the time, as it brings them up to the top end of the technology spectrum.”
And that’s undoubtedly life-changing – whether you’ve just finished a grueling four-mile uphill cycling time trial, or if you simply want to text your friends and family from your own home. Stay tuned for more on our open femto trial, and click here for the story so far.
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