Confused about 4G, Ofcom and frequencies measured in MHz? Don't worry - we've been speaking to the man who can explain it all in plain English.
Since the launch of our 4G network, you may have heard us talk about 4G frequencies and different numbered MHz figures, but wondered what it all actually means and why it matters.
It’s complex stuff, but we’ve been speaking to a man who can lay it all on the line for us in a straightforward way. Meet Dr Rob Matthews, our resident network guru…
Hitting a brick wall
Before we jump into the science behind these frequencies, we need a bit of background about the challenges any mobile network faces when trying to get a signal into your home, office or any other building:
“Buildings affect a mobile network signal – that’s a fact. It’s why sometimes you can step outside and get a better reception than standing just a couple of metres away indoors,” says Rob.
“We know that different building types affect the signal in different ways because of their attenuation properties,” he tells us. Attenuation basically refers to the way signal strength reduces over a long distance or when passing through certain materials.
Rob explains that getting signal through different kinds of walls is one of biggest challenges for mobile phone networks. “The struggle is with two key types of buildings…” he says. “Very old buildings and very new buildings.
“Old manor houses, hotels, railway stations, etc. – anything with dense construction material like thick stone presents a challenge. Even thatched roofs can be a struggle, because they are actually very dense too. With new buildings, it’s all about solar-reflective glass, foil-backed plasterboard, heavy insulation and metal skins you find in contemporary commercial buildings. All of those things affect the flow of the signal.”
But all is most definitely not lost. “We have two ways around this: one is our physical range of solutions. From the Vodafone Sure Signal as a domestic device in your home, right the way through to a full-blown open femtocell solution.” The latter being what’s deployed around the villages in our rural coverage trial.
“And the other solution,” Rob adds, “is all about radio waves.”
Now we’re getting to the cool bit – why we’re so keen to talk about Vodafone’s 4G as being great for squeezing inside buildings. Interestingly, it’s all about keeping a low profile:
“In the same way buildings have different attenuation properties, radio frequencies have different penetration properties too,” Rob says. “The easiest way to explain this is that low frequencies penetrate buildings much better than high frequencies.
“Have you ever been kept awake by noisy neighbours having a party down the road? If so, you’ll know that what you can hear is the music’s heavy bass thumping through the walls. You don’t hear the high-pitched bits like the melody or the cymbals, because treble is on higher frequency.
“Low frequency penetrates buildings better.”
“To put that into our language, we operate our 2G service on our 900MHz frequency, which is a low frequency. 3G is operated at 2,100MHz, which is obviously higher. That’s why you might sometimes get a good 3G experience outside a building but notice it drop off indoors, whilst still getting a strong 2G signal.
“To improve our 3G service indoors, we’ve started operating it on 900MHz frequency in some areas. We call it U900, and it means that we can start to mirror our 2G coverage inside buildings, so that wherever 2G goes, so will 3G.”
That’s a great step in the right direction, but Vodafone’s 4G signal goes one step further:
“Our 4G operates at the 800MHz frequency, which is even better at penetrating buildings.”
“Our 4G operates at the 800MHz frequency, which is even lower and is even better at penetrating buildings. We’ve been able to launch our 4G service using it since the digital switchover finished (which involved moving analogue TV signal from the 750-850MHz frequency).
“Using the 800Mhz frequency means we can provide our customers with strong coverage, both indoors and out,” says Rob in closing; “because it’s great at getting to your phone when you’re indoors.”
That’s that sorted then: mobile phone frequencies explained in a no-nonsense way, and a quick look at what we really mean when we’re talking about MHz and indoor 4G.
More, more, more… All cleared up? We’ll be back with more from Rob in the future, but in the mean time you can fill your boots with all the Vodafone 4G information you can handle right here.