We've brought 3G signal to 12 'not-spot' rural communities throughout the UK and are looking for 100 more, but how has the process evolved since it began?
Last time we caught up with Vodafone’s Dr Rob Matthews to talk about Open Sure Signal, he was answering some of the big questions about our #ROSS100 project, which is looking to bring reliable 3G signal to 100 new rural communities around the UK.
How do you bring mobile signal to a place where there is none? Easy: all you need is a bit of tech wizardry and the help of the local community…
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Applications for #ROSS100 are open now, and that follows on from our work in 12 trial villages. Blakeney in Norfolk is one of those 12, and we’ve recently been to visit with Dr Rob and the team at Vodafone to talk about how having 3G signal has changed people’s lives. During our time there, we dug a little deeper into what Rob has learned about the process, and why we”re still tweaking things all the time…
Practice makes perfect
“We’re the only operator investing quite seriously in open femto technology,” says Rob, talking about how the Open Sure Signal project got started. “Other networks offer home-only versions like our Sure Signal product, but we’re the only ones also doing an open solution, which allows multiple people to connect to a mini mast outside, because we know that being able to bring signal to rural communities is really important.”
But while we’re not exactly new to the world of Open Sure Signal technology, the main thing Dr Rob is keen to impart is that there’s still an awful lot to learn. Last time we spoke to Dr. Rob about ROSS, he told Vodafone Social that “we’re constantly developing, learning and improving as we go along,” adding that he was “sure that with #ROSS100, there will be challenges that we haven’t seen before.”
Blakeney’s been up and running with its Rural Open Sure Signal units for over a year, but we”re still only at the trial stage – that”s how new this technology is:
“Even the 100 villages in our ROSS100 programme will be a trial.”
“Even the 100 villages in our ROSS100 programme will be a trial,” says Rob. “Think of it like this: we’ve got thousands of masts around the country, and we know how to manage and monitor those because we’ve done so for years.
“With the open femtocell units in the 12 trial villages, we know that they work, but there’s always opportunity to develop and improve the technology.
“At the moment we run a report every morning for example, but we want to get it to live reporting, so that if a unit goes down we know about it straight away, and can respond immediately.”
Rob explains how smarter monitoring is just part of a whole host of things we’re learning about how to run the ROSS project more efficiently, and how learnings from one site can help the next…
“In terms of fault detection, our reports look at site performance over the last 24 hours, and then if we need to we’ll reset them. That’s one of our learnings from the 12 trial villages,” he says. “Our new units will have the ability to be remotely reset, whereas with our original ones we would have to phone the owner of the premises and ask them to turn the power on and off. Now we can do that ourselves. The next thing will be to get real time, more sophisticated monitoring.
“We’ve also had some units that haven’t performed as well as they should, but we’re learning from that too. For example, in one of our trial villages, Winterslow, we’re now looking to move a unit from one building to another to increase its range, and that kind of thing is all part of the learning curve.
“So it is all an ongoing trial,” Rob says in closing. “One that will ensure we can fully industrialise this system and provide continued 3G coverage to rural communities.”
More information… For more on our work in Blakeney, click here. You can read more about Open Sure Signal and the original 12 villages here, and there’s all the information you need about our new #ROSS100 project here. Do you live in a rural area with poor mobile coverage? head to vodafone.co.uk/rural to apply to be one of our next 100 Open Sure Signal sites.