Singer with no voice box performs Christmas carol thanks to Vodafone’s 5G

Tanja Bage

Vodafone has released heart-warming footage that shows how its 5G network, and an incredible piece of technology, enabled an inspirational cancer survivor with voice loss to perform a very special Christmas carol for her sister.

Tanja Bage (pronounced Bor-guh), a mum of two, had her voice box removed (laryngectomy) following a throat cancer diagnosis in 2020, and now speaks through a speech valve. Tanja, a trained actress and singer, is incredibly close to her sister Mia. But lockdown prevented them from being together during her treatment and through her early recovery.

For Christmas 2022, Tanja wanted to give Mia a surprise she would never forget, all with the help of a very special guest – Martine McCutcheon, a singer and actress known for a variety of stage and screen roles including My Fair Lady, EastEnders and, of course, the ultimate Christmas movie, Love Actually.

Martine’s vocal sounds (the ooohs, eees and aaahs that provided the tune to Silent Night) were transmitted from a recording studio to an Electrospit, which Tanja was wearing around her neck. As the vocal samples travelled through Tanja’s throat, Tanja was able to shape the sounds into the words of Silent Night and the duo performed, magically, in perfect unison.

The key to the brilliant timing of the performance was Vodafone’s superfast 5G network. With 5G there was no delay in Martine’s vocals reaching Tanja, so they stayed perfectly in sync with each other despite their different locations.

Tanja said: “The hardest thing about this (having my voice box removed) was the loss of my singing voice. Obviously, I do still have a voice, but not the one I was born with.

“My sister and I have always been very close, and she has always been my biggest fan. Being able to surprise her on her doorstep and perform in this whole new way felt really special.

“I never thought I’d get to perform again in this way.”

Martine said: “I have simply been blown away by how 5G and tech can be used in this way. To be able to partner with Vodafone to make Tanja and Mia’s Christmas super magical has been a real privilege for me. I’ve been so inspired learning about the laryngectomy community and hope this project will educate the wider public on how to help remove any stigmas those with diverse voices may face.”

Nicki Lyons, Chief Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Officer at Vodafone, said: “We’re always looking for ways in which we can use our technology for good. Using the power of our 5G network can help achieve things that were thought impossible before.

“Obviously, this is very early days for this project, but by working with companies like Sound Voice, who identified this use of the Electrospit, we’re excited to continue to explore what else might be possible.”

Dr Thomas Moors, an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor with a special interest in voice therapy and rehabilitation, said: “Losing your voice can be a devastating and depersonalising experience – voice goes hand-in-hand with identity and I’ve seen first-hand how challenging it can be to find a new balance and means of self-expression.

“The laryngectomy community is a small and scattered group, around 8,000 in the UK, easily overlooked in our society and at risk for social isolation.

“Working with Vodafone has been exciting, it is the first telecoms company we know of that is invested in helping out a group of people who are challenged on multiple levels in their communication – it shows that tech developments can help us on our journey, and the power of 5G means we can connect and communicate with people like we never thought.”

Vodafone is exploring updating existing training material for its call centre staff to help employees recognise customers with diverse voices and ensure their needs are understood. The company is also committed to finding ways that 5G technology can bring people together this Christmas.