Vodafone uses phone boxes to improve 4G coverage

(Image credit: Vodafone)

Vodafone has found a novel method of improving mobile coverage in busy parts of Brighton – equipping phone boxes with 4G equipment.

The operator has kitted out five phone boxes with compact 4G technology small enough to fit on top of the roof of the phone box and capable of delivering service to a radius of 200 metres.

Five phone boxes have been modified so far, located in Bartholomew Street, Castle Square, Duke Street, Queens Square and on the seafront by Palace Pier.

Phone box small cells

While most elements of mobile networks are powered by macroinfrastructure such as phone masts or antennas located on top of buildings, microinfrastructure such as small cells is increasingly valued for its ability to boost coverage in densely populated areas.

Whilst small cells are desirable for 4G, they will be essential to fulfil the speed, capacity, and low-latency promises of 5G when paired with high-capacity spectrum.

Vodafone has previously used manhole covers to enhance its 4G network, while laying a foundation for 5G, and phone boxes are ideal for the same purpose thanks to prominent locations, access to wider phone networks and readily available power supplies.

There are tens of thousands of phone boxes in the UK but these have fallen into disuse to the mass adoption of mobile phones. Although BT has replaced some units with modern ‘kiosks’ that offer Wi-Fi and digital advertising, it has encouraged communities to ‘adopt’ a phone box for £1. Those that have taken up the offer have transformed neglected boxes into art galleries, libraries and information centres.

“Our network has never been busier as more people rely on their smartphones and expect a fast, reliable connection – for shopping, social media, entertainment, maps, and so much more,” said Scott Petty, Vodafone UK CEO.

“Across the UK, we see old phone boxes being used as libraries, shops and even aquariums.  But with our technology they are returning to their roots, ensuring residents and visitors to the city can stay connected. At Vodafone, we continue to innovate so that our customers can keep connecting.”

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.