We chat to Vodafone UK’s CEO Jeroen Hoencamp & new CTO Jorge Fernandes about completing their recent 42 metre mast climb challenge

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“I thought it would go largely unnoticed, but apparently lots of people have watched the video!” Jeroen laughs. We recently caught up with the man in charge at Vodafone UK, and when we brought up the subject of his recent climbing exploits, he was eager to tell us more:

“It started a number of months ago with the ice bucket challenge. I expected to be challenged a lot, but by the time I was, the whole world had already done it – it wasn’t new anymore. So I asked the guys to come up with something that was.

“When they challenged me to climb a mast, I said ‘great, let’s do it!’ I thought that it would be one of our regular 12 metre towers. What I didn’t know was that they had already found me a 42 metre mast in Bedford…”

More than meets the eye

While it would be easy to think that this climbing stuff looks like a whole lot of fun, Jeroen is quick to point out that there’s more than meets the eye to climbing a network mast.

“It was great fun to be out there with the guys climbing the tower,” says Jeroen, “but it’s incredibly challenging. I’m very fit, but by the time I came down I was exhausted. Part of it is down to my lack of climbing experience – you should use your legs far more than your arms because they’re much stronger, but my technique left me with very sore arms.

“There were quite a few bets amongst the riggers that I probably wouldn’t make it. But both Jorge and I did the full 42 metres and managed to go up and down, which surprised everyone I think!

“They made me do all sorts of things like climbing on the outside of the tower and the ‘Crucifix’ as they call it – I had no idea what that was until they wanted me to let go of the tower.

The ‘Crucifix’ pose is actually a part of the rigorous fitness and Health and Safety training programme our riggers go through so it’s important that Jorge and I went through that too. Our riggers’ safety is of upmost importance to Vodafone, so to have experienced something like that was a real eye-opener for us.”

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“But essentially, all we did was climb up, play around a bit, and then we came back down, all in gorgeous weather. For these guys, though, climbing up and down is just their commute. When I was doing the Crucifix pose, they explained that you need to be able to do this, because in real life you’ll need to stand and use your tools at the same time. They’re up there working for hours in the rain, or the freezing cold. That’s a totally different situation, and I have a huge amount of respect for what they do.”

Vodafone UK is always looking for ways to improve the network. The work that engineers do is integral to that, and where better for Jeroen and Jorge to ask them how Vodafone can make their jobs easier than on top of a mast?

“At the top of the tower, we sat there for 15 minutes having a chat,” he says. “They explained what it is like to be up on the mast, and what they actually do, and I got to ask them how Vodafone can help them to be safer, and do a better job. The whole thing was fascinating; we took our time because it was just a great place to have that conversation.”

“The whole point really was that I wanted to understand what it is like to be on the front line – to build and maintain our networks.”

On the front lines…

 

It’s hugely important given the nature of the job that we continue to focus on health and safety

And network engineers really are on the front lines. Want proof? Check out how they have to battle the elements to keep the network running smoothly in the Scottish Highlands. The work our engineers do is both challenging and absolutely vital, and Vodafone UK is committed to making sure that the only problem they face is the weather:

 

“It’s hugely important given the nature of the job that we continue to focus on health and safety, particularly in being disciplined with our policies because at that height, you risk people’s lives.

“Most importantly in the end, we need to optimise the system around them, because the job is hugely time consuming. At the moment, the planning is such that they show up today for one thing and two weeks later for another thing. We need to make sure we support them with better planning; better communications and the best possible tools so they can do all the jobs in one go.

“The good news is that we’re keeping these guys really, really busy,” Jeroen says in closing, “because we’re investing so heavily in the network. We’ve just put up a new network mast on the Isle of Coll, for example, and there will be lots more over the next 24 months with the rest of our modernisation and 4G upgrades.”

The secret life of a network rigger… What’s it like working 120 metres above the ground? Click here to find out, courtesy of some of Vodafone’s very own network engineers.