Vodafone to use manhole covers to improve 4G and 5G

Vodafone wants to deploy micro-infrastructure in manhole covers, believing it to be a simple and inexpensive way of boosting the capacity and speeds of 4G and 5G networks

The operator has deployed two types of manhole covers at its Newbury headquarters – one is purpose built and the other is an existing cast iron cover used by the UK’s utility networks – and now wants to use the technology in busy urban areas in the UK.

It says they can be installed with minimal disruption, as there is no need for street works or construction, and because the antennas are underground, they aren’t visible. It also means it might be easier to get planning permission.

Vodafone manhole 4G

Each antenna can deliver a signal across a 200 metre radius with minimal power consumption, boosting the performance and laying the foundation for 5G. Operators will need to densify their networks using micro-infrastructure such as small cells and high capacity spectrum in order to fulfil the speed, capacity and low-latency promises of 5G.

Vodafone wants to use its own manholes, acquired in the acquisition of Cable & Wireless (CWW) in 2012, and those of UK utility providers.

“We are committed to providing customers with the best network possible by drawing on our strengths in innovation and strong UK heritage,” said Nick Jeffrey, Vodafone UK CEO. “It is great to be able to use yesterday’s infrastructure - from phone boxes to manhole covers – to deliver the services of tomorrow.  This is one of the ways we are extending our 4G services to areas other networks cannot reach, and getting ready for 5G.”

A separate initiative to improve mobile coverage on the ground is seeing antennas placed on the roofs of traditional phone boxes in Edinburgh. 

Several have already been deployed ahead of the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh and the technology has been earmarked for rural areas where there is insufficient access to power and backhaul.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.