Have you ever been at a festival, a gig, or another crowded event and had trouble making calls or updating your social media? That happens when networks don’t put in the legwork to scale up their capacity – and it’s something we’re experts at.
Right now, we’re busy getting things ready for Goodwood Festival of Speed – bringing our tech to the site to ensure you can use your phone the way you expect, no matter how busy things get.
But how does the temporary tech work? And what would happen if it wasn’t there? We’ve been speaking to Vodafone UK’s Mike Hayes to find out…
Great events, great responsibility
“My responsibility is focused on deploying temporary structures (or ‘temps’) that we need for big events,” says Mike. “At something like Goodwood we see huge spikes in people’s data usage, so we need to plan accordingly.”
That planning all revolves around network capacity, which we need to boost so that everyone can use their phones at once in the same place. And, unsurprisingly, our needs in that area have come a long way in a short space of time:
“Several ago we would have a single temp to service an event, and that would service all the necessary 2G and 3G data. It didn’t matter where it was, it would cover everyone’s needs.
“Now though, with the massive increase in the amount data people use on their phones, we have to use more and more technology, and be more clever about where we locate our temps and direct capacity.
“So these days – for big events like Wimbledon or British Summer Time – we’d have as many as five temps with enhanced technology.”
Rolling out the temps
Setting those temps up is complex work. “When we do this kind of work we’re deploying structures in around five days that would take up to three months in the fixed network world,” Mike explains, “so there’s lots to get organised.”
But how does it actually work? And what kind of events need this extra infrastructure?
“We’re deploying structures in around five days that would take up to three months in the fixed network world.”
“We’ve got two types of structure,” says Mike. “One is a cell on wheels, which is basically a standard mobile cabin and mast on the back of a trailer. The other is like a shipping container with a mast built on top. But it takes around five days to install either, including linking the microwaves that connect each temp back to our fixed network.
“Roughly speaking, we need one trailer for every 25,000 people in attendance,” he adds. “And without those extra temps the experience would be that – while you might have full bars on your phone –you wouldn’t be able to make calls or stream anything.”
Festival of Speedy data
All of which brings us to Goodwood Festival of Speed, on 12-15 July. Now in its 25th year, the event will see some of the world’s fastest cars and drivers take on the Hillclimb, with thousands of petrol heads in attendance. And that provides Mike’s team with some pretty unique challenges…
“Goodwood is in the middle of a very rural area,” he says. “It’s very undulating, and covered in huge trees. So to work out how best to service the festival we first need to go along, survey the whole area, secure the locations for our temps and confirm that we can link those temps back to the network.
“And to be sure we’re ready, we’re doubling the capacity this year – with three temps that have six ‘sectors’ each.”
Put simply, those sectors are what beams out the extra network muscle.
“Normally you have three sectors per site to provide 360º of coverage. Our temps for Goodwood have six, which are each less wide and more directional, and we are able to provide more capacity as a result.”
Confused? Think of mobile signal like orange juice: you can either make a whole gallon of weaker ‘from concentrate’ stuff, or a smaller amount of 100% goodness. So those more focused sectors on each site provide stronger, more concentrated benefits – which makes sense, since people at festivals tend to gravitate towards specific areas.
“At Reading or Wireless Festivals, for example, we’d need to direct more of that extra capacity towards the main stage than some of the smaller ones,” Mike explains. “With Goodwood, it’s all about getting capacity into small areas. But we’re learning all the time, and fine tune things based on experience.”
“It all needs to just work,” he says in closing. “We want to make sure that there’s no buffering when you’re streaming, and that there are no dropped calls. We want people to be able to connect straight away.”
Signal stats… Got a head for numbers? Here are ten mind-blowing facts about data use in the UK.