4G is nearly here, and we're busy making sure that the next evolution of our network will be really special. But how do you go from 3G to 4G?


Vodafone UK’s head of networks, Santiago Tenorio (Yago for short), is a busy man. With our ultrafast 4G network just around the corner, there’s plenty of work to be done, and that’s on top of the busy job of making sure what’s already there continues to operate without any problems.

Yago’s already told us that he thinks there’s something huge coming with the onset of 4G, but how do you prepare for the arrival of a whole new technology? And how big is the change? That’s exactly what Vodafone Social set out to discover.

The right man for the job

Santiago Tenario“The sheer complexity of a mobile network is often underestimated,” Yago says right from the off. “It’s hard to imagine how many systems – how many boxes performing different functions and interacting with different machines – we have. They all have to do their job, which is to talk to the next box along the line. “It’s a very intricate system. It’s so complex that you can touch one thing on one end and the effect is noticed miles and miles away.”

Luckily for us, keeping on top of a system like that is just what Yago’s always loved to do, so he’s exactly the right man for the job: “I think I built my first antenna at the age of eight,” he says.

“I was a radio amateur and my parents gave me a citizen bands radio and I used to build antennas round the back of my house. I liked to understand what works and what doesn’t, and why. I’m still a radio fanatic, but now I have a bigger budget!”


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And that passion is what stands Yago in good stead for quickly fixing issues that may occur at any point along our network.

“You have to notice and monitor the effects of changes you’re making all the time. Sometimes it’s a bit like being in the TV series House – you have a problem and you have to become a detective. Small issues like calls dropping in a certain area, providing coverage where there isn’t, or improving speeds, etc. all have repercussions.”

Brand new plumbing


It’s one thing to make sure that every step of the network stays afloat when you try to fix a problem, but it’s another entirely to introduce new technology, like 4G. As Yago explains, it’s a pretty monumental task:

“When we’re rolling out a brand new technology like with 4G, it’s like upgrading a fundamental part of your home. It’s as if, for example, you wanted your taps to give you hot and cold water, but now also orange juice. You’d have to completely change the piping system, and change the taps too. Everything, including the kitchen sink, has to change. And all the while still providing hot and cold water like nothing is happening.

“This is exactly the same for 4G,” Yago adds, “I’m not exaggerating,”

“From the connection to the internet, to the devices, to the base stations, everything is new.”

Ok, so what exactly is the network equivalent of taps and kitchen sink? As we announced this month, we’ve recently upped our network investment to a huge £900 million in preparation for 4G, and that’s because there’s a serious amount of hardware involved.

“From the connection to the internet, to the devices, to the base stations, everything is new.”

Yago tells us that there’s two key parts to the network – and both are being spruced up beyond recognition. “What we call the ‘core network’ is the intelligent part that sits in the centre, handling all our traffic and making thousands of decisions a second, and that’s entirely new for 4G.

“But also you need a bigger ‘pipe’ to carry the traffic to and from all the base stations in the UK. And the base stations themselves need new, more capable antennas and equipment. What’s more, every new piece of equipment we put in needs to be able to connect to the existing equipment that does 2G and 3G, too.”

A long time coming


“4G for us is the sum of parallel streams, most of which we’ve been working on for the last 18 months to two years,” explains Yago. Thing is, that recent work is just the tip of an iceberg that stretches way beneath the surface: “Some of these streams are ones we’ve been working on for the last seven years.”

It’s all about making sure the brand new technology and the existing, or ‘legacy’ parts all sit together and work seamlessly, whether you’re on 4G, 3G or even 2G. “All of the things we’ve been doing recently will come together the moment 4G is launched. But,” Yago adds, “the things we’ve been working on for longer, although mandatory for the next generation, aren’t just for 4G – they’re part of a total modernisation of the network.

“Everything we’ve done in the last 10 years, since we launched 3G, has been waiting for the moment that we turn on 4G.” And that’s why, when our 4G network gets the green light late this year, Yago will be ready, and the network will be firing on all cylinders.

All clued up? There’s still loads more to come from our time with Yago, so stay tuned to Vodafone Social. Any questions? Let us know below…