Vodafone, The Church of England Partner to Drive Rural Coverage

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Mobile coverage services specialist Net CS has partnered with Vodafone to install new mobile technology in 11 Church of England parish churches across the UK to provide strong and reliable 4G coverage to the nearby rural communities.

The first two churches, the Blessed Virgin Mary in Brompton Regis, Somerset, and St Michael’s & All Angels in Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire, are now live. A further nine sites are planned to go live in the coming months.

Churches have long been seen as an important part of delivering mobile coverage to rural and urban areas, often located in central, elevated sites within a community. The 11 sites will deliver Vodafone 4G to areas which have historically struggled to receive good quality and reliable mobile coverage.

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The project has been made possible through innovative mobile technology called OpenRAN, which is a radio access network system that allows interoperation between cellular network equipment provided by different vendors. Some of the many benefits are that OpenRAN installations occupy a smaller physical footprint and require less power than traditional single-vendor systems. Net CS has designed the church installations using a neutral host format, so they can be connected to multiple network operators.

Vodafone was the first UK operator to commit to a large-scale OpenRAN roll-out programme as part of its work to improve its 5G and 4G mobile coverage across the UK and close the UK’s digital divide.

This roll-out follows the announcement of the planned combination of Vodafone UK and Three UK, which will give the two companies the scale required to invest £11 billion over the next decade to create Europe’s leading 5G network and create jobs in all nations and regions.

Andrea Dona, Network and Development Director, Vodafone UK, said: “Churches are typically very tall, on high ground and close to the community we’re trying to connect. This makes them the perfect place to install a mobile site, and now we’ve developed technology that’s small enough not to spoil the appearance of the church.

“Our aim is to use this cutting-edge technology to improve mobile coverage in as many rural locations as possible. This is an important step in ensuring rural communities can enjoy all the benefits of mobile connectivity.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, said: “This project is an example of the many ways churches benefit their local communities. As well as delivering better mobile coverage, the improved connectivity achieved through these new church-based sites helps combat the social justice issue of poor connectivity which affects many residents in rural areas.

“The key consideration for us has always been the wishes of local communities, who have been widely supportive of these new sites. Net CS, our infrastructure facilitator, ensures that the new installations are unobtrusive, safe for our congregations and the wider community, and will deliver benefits to church users and the whole community.”

Peter Morrell-Brown, Chairman, Net CS, said: “This project clearly demonstrates the value of churches as a key part of the nationwide solution to mobile not-spots. OpenRAN has made a lot of these sites viable for the first time, providing new locations that could go a long way towards driving better rural and urban coverage across the country.”

“We see this project as just the beginning of the growth of church-based mobile coverage sites – the infrastructure that we’re putting in place is available for use by any operator, potentially solving a significant part of the UK’s mobile coverage challenge.”