Check out the story behind bringing signal to three more #ROSS100 not-spots, and find out how the lessons we've learned mean big things for the future...
We’re on a mission to bring reliable 3G mobile signal to 100 rural communities around the UK that have, up until now, had limited access to mobile networks in the UK. These not-spot areas are notoriously difficult to reach, but they’re not impossible: all it takes is a little bit of magic in the shape of our Rural Open Sure Signal boxes.
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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The latest three communities in the #ROSS100 project – Broad Chalke in Wiltshire and both Chillaton and Lifton in Devon – have just gone live, so we’ve been chatting to Vodafone’s network expert Dr Rob Matthews to get the inside scoop…
Learning as we go
Broad Chalke, Lifton and Chillaton are the most recent of a planned 100 rural communities set to feel the benefit of Vodafone’s pioneering Open Sure Signal tech. That means the people in these previously unconnected villages can now call, text and surf the web from their mobiles for the first time. It’s a great step forwards but, as Dr Rob explains, setting up signal in small communities is never easy – even when you’ve got one of the most advanced solutions going:
“I think every village represents its own challenge,” he tells us, “whether that’s in terms of finding the best place for optimum coverage or talking to local authorities to persuade them that we’re going to have a very low impact in picturesque places. We have some villages, for example, where the suggestion of a cereal box-sized device on the side of a building needs as much planning permission as you would need for a conservatory! That kind of thing can cause delays for the whole program, and that really flies against what we’re trying to achieve.
“There are all sorts of other challenges that arise, too. If you’re putting a box on the roof of a local pub, for example, you have to compete with their schedule – we can’t go in and survey on this day because it’s Father’s Day, or that day because it’s Easter, or it could be anything! So we have to be very mindful of how we manage our relationship with the local site providers, and work with them to be able to get things done.”
So what about our new, fresh ROSS100 sites? They’re up and running now with reliable 3G stretching far and wide, but even in small communities like this – with a combined population of less than 1,000 – it still wasn’t a walk in the park:
“One of our big learnings has been around what we need to do to get a broadband line in for the Sure Signal boxes to run off,” says Rob. “We were looking at the Sports Centre in Broad Chalke as a possible site, but they didn’t have a broadband connection there. So we had to figure out how to order it, what the time scales were and how to make it work sustainably. There have been several learning points like that with Broad Chalke that are going to help us massively going forward.”
“Chillaton was less complex,” he adds, “because of its smaller size it just needs a single site in the centre of the village.” But that’s not to say that each and every rural community on the road to 100 doesn’t teach us something new…
“These sites mark the first time that we’ve done the installation ourselves – now – ordering the broadband, managing the broadband, installing the devices, getting them running and monitoring them. We didn’t do all that before so there’s new learning points at every step – things like asbestos surveys, lightning protection and all the other things you have to consider as part of a building exercise. It’s a massive task, but now that we’ve got the grounding it’s going to help us with all the other villages going forward. We’re able to really motor now to get villages up and running with our 3G.”
And when we set each community’s ROSS technology live, it can have life-changing effects for the people who live there:
“The feedback’s been really positive,” says Rob in closing. “When things are up and running it really makes a difference to communities. And I think that’s the key thing for us: we want to continue to make that difference up and down the country.”