How we built the best 5G network in London
Being named the best 5G network in London by umlaut is a big achievement, but it’s not the title that motivates us – it’s our customers. As Head of Radio & Performance at Vodafone UK, working with Ericsson on building an award-winning network has been a fantastic journey.
Visiting Ericsson headquarters in Stockholm last year, both Vodafone and Ericsson teams were set on utilizing the power of Ericsson’s advanced network features such as Ericsson Spectrum Sharing to improve our customer experience. How can this technology support our wider rollout with Ericsson in the UK, make the most of our spectrum, and help us focus on reliable, targeted connectivity? It feels like a lifetime ago now, we’re in the ‘new normal’, but, if anything, Covid-19 has simply confirmed how fundamental connectivity is to society. The Ericsson Mobility Report told us that while some apps are flagging, streaming is at an all-time high. We want to learn, engage, communicate and work via video – and that’s a lot of bandwidth we need from our network. That’s why having the best 5G is more critical than ever.
We didn’t set out to have the best 5G in London for just the title. This has been a focused piece of work to optimise our investment in 5G for the best user experience for our customers. We are the only operator to exclusively deploy 5G using 64x64 MaMIMO, and using Ericsson technology and our network, we have delivered a strong, solid and reliable 5G service. On top of this we have been steadily improving our 4G capacity which supplements the overall performance. There are many possible 5G rollout strategies, but we have chosen to stay focused on key targeted areas rather than spread the investment too wide at this stage.
Capitalizing on the UKs capital
Many of the UK’s early adopters will live in and around London. We knew that the 5G iPhone was coming, and we wanted Vodafone customers to experience the best 5G service on their new devices. We are committed to delivering the best for our customers and part of that means future-proofing our network where and when we can. Deployment in Central London is challenging at the best of times so it’s important we carry out as much work as we can when we visit sites. Put it this way: closing Whitehall on multiple occasions to upgrade a cell site is a non-starter. When we upgrade our sites, we really think about long-term modernisations, and part of this is about the equipment we deploy, so we’ve used Ericsson technology, utilizing Massive MIMO on virtually all of our London sites.
Lockdown has also presented its own unique challenges – gaining permission to access buildings is normally a quite straight forward, but not during a pandemic. Many sites were simply inaccessible due to difficulties contacting site providers or due to sensitive locations close to hospitals or care homes. So we’ve worked closely with local authorities, site providers, Transport For London and others to keep our network running and our deployment programmes progressing. We know how important connectivity has been to many during lockdown, an example being my parents who are both in their 80s, who’ve relied on video calls to stay in touch with family - it’s the same story all over the world. Mobile connectivity is crucial, so we’ve worked really hard as key workers to maintain, build and advance networks and keep everybody connected.
Ericsson and Vodafone collaboration
While the seeds were sown in Stockholm with Ericsson, what’s been successful for us is that we’ve worked together as a wider team towards a common goal. This isn’t just an engineering project, it’s a business-led initiative to support a commercial activity.
Looking towards the future of our partnership with Ericsson we can ask, how do we plan activities remotely? How do we become more flexible? Not just for this project but for the whole of the UK? Working closely and sharing the same vision has meant that we’ve built the best 5G network in London, and I’m confident there’ll be many more achievements to come.