Our first #ROSS100 village is now live! To find out why projects like it are so important, we've been speaking to Vodafone UK's CEO, Jeroen Hoencamp...

Jeroen Hoencamp 1

The first of our Rural Open Sure Signal (ROSS) communities is now live. We’ve been on the lookout for 100 rural villages to bring our pioneering Rural Open Sure Signal programme to, and Minchinhampton in the Cotswolds just became the first to feel the benefit.

 

innConnecting Cranborne

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… – Click here for the full story

 

To celebrate Minchinhampton’s newfound 3G signal, Vodafone UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp has been talking to Vodafone Social about the project, and how important it is for Vodafone UK as a whole…

A modern solution to an old problem

“We want to give customers the best possible network experience across the entire country,” Jeroen tells us. “But that’s not a straightforward aim in the UK for a couple of reasons. I don’t think the industry as a whole has invested enough in infrastructure over the last couple of years and there are also certain areas where there is a poor basic infrastructure, with no proper broadband, for instance. That’s not to mention those small communities where it’s uneconomical or too difficult for geographic or planning reasons to go out and build a regular network.

“A lot of small communities ask for and demand coverage, but at the same time, they don’t want antennas or masts in their community, so that’s always a challenge for us. Although we can and make masts which can blend in pretty much anywhere,” Jeroen says, “or put them inside buildings, or on roofs or disguise them, it is still hard to do if someone in the community doesn’t want it.”

antenna best

And that’s where Rural Open Sure Signal tech comes in. Our smart open femtocell boxes sit atop a few buildings in each village, where they connect to the broadband and transform that connectivity into reliable 3G voice and data signal for the local area:

“With ROSS, it’s just a few small boxes. You really have to know what you’re looking for if you want to see them at all. And we’re the only ones who can offer this solution,” Jeroen adds. “Any network would be able to build a macro network in these areas, but it’s uneconomical in most cases to do so, so companies tend not to. We are the only ones who have this specific open femtocell technology.”

Jeroen goes on to explain that ROSS makes up just one small part of a much bigger investment – one that Vodafone has made to try and improve the UK’s infrastructure at every level:

We are very serious about our ambition to build the best and the strongest possible network in the UK…”

“We are very serious about our ambition to build the best and the strongest possible network in the UK,” he says. “We have two things in our favour there: one is that we’ve already committed to invest £1 billion in network and services for this year, and the second is that we’ve committed to a similar amount for next year, so there’s a lot of budget available for Vodafone to build with.

“The big money still goes into the macro network – building more sites, upgrading existing sites with the latest equipment, and modernising sites with the latest, more energy efficient materials for better performance and stability. It sounds very simple, but things like really big batteries are important purchases – if the power goes out at a site for whatever reason, we will have big batteries that last 48 hours to keep that site running. These things don’t improve coverage, but they do improve the resilience of our network, so we can deliver the signal we’ve committed to our customers.

“When you add all these things up – the batteries, the more modern equipment, the installations and our 4G rollout – that’s the bulk of the money spent. The Rural Open Sure Signal programme is relatively small, but it’s very impactful for those communities where it is installed. ROSS fits in with the core of our strategy, and with what we’re trying to do as a company.”

Bridging the digital divide

We recently spoke to Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, about the ROSS launch in Blakeney, and he told us that he was concerned about the UK facing a digital divide between rural and urban areas if more action wasn’t taken to improve the UK’s communications. With that in mind, we wanted to know if Jeroen agreed…

“I totally agree,” he says. “We definitely run that risk of a digital divide in the UK. There’s a risk that certain areas of the UK are going to be behind if you don’t upgrade the infrastructure. And we run the risk of being uncompetitive vs the rest of the world. A local, small butchers in a rural community, for example, actually has a massive opportunity by having a really great product that they could sell anywhere online. But you need the network to be in place to be able to do that.”

 

 

And that’s why Jeroen believes ROSS to be so important:

“If you run a local business you can leave your premises and still work; you can read your emails, connect with social media and do more on the go. So for businesses it’s all about being available and more productive, which is great, but don’t underestimate how important being connected is if you’re a mum with a couple of kids. We all need to be available. It is unthinkable that people don’t have that communication these days.

“So, at a basic level, ROSS is about bringing 3G connectivity to people so that they can reap the benefits of it. Before this, a lot of these rural communities didn’t have any data signal, and barely any voice, so by offering this solution we are literally bringing these communities into the 21st century.”

More on #ROSS100… You can find out loads more about the project by searching #ROSS100 on Twitter, as well as how to apply to bring signal to your village, at vodafone.co.uk/rural. To see how it’s helped the people of Blakeney, click here.