What actually happens during a 4G network rollout?
Yesterday was the day we’ve all been waiting for – or at least the day O2 and Vodafone have been waiting for, as their 4G networks finally went live. For customers that just means that where once there was a 3G signal there’ll now be a 4G one instead, but to reach that point a lot has to go on behind the scenes and Vodafone has shed some light on what needed doing before its network could go live.
Yago Tenorio, head of networks at Vodafone UK explained that “The work at the core of the network is complete; now we’re focused on the local activity. On our existing sites we need to upgrade the antennas and the equipment. So, engineers have to go to the site and change the electronics. Depending on the site, that may be quite difficult, particularly in London.
“Antennas are the most difficult because they’re big and bulky, and sometimes require a crane. The radio equipment is generally easier, but even then you sometimes have to build new cabinets or find unique solutions to problems.
“That’s the key to 4G – putting in the electronics and the antennas that can deliver our Vodafone 4G service. At the same time, we’ve been working on bringing fibre optic cables to our sites, so that they have very high-speed connections.”
It’s a big job, as in London alone there were hundreds of sites that needed upgrading and Vodafone was still working on them right up to the last minute. Then even once a site’s been upgraded it needs testing to ensure it works properly, so while one set of teams would upgrade a site another would test it.
It’s such a big job in fact that in the run up to launch Vodafone had scrambled its entire team, sending them all out into London to perform various jobs.
Even before Vodafone switched on 4G for public consumption it was already there, but it was only accessible through special SIM cards that the network used to test the service.
Vodafone also addressed the fact that its rollout could be perceived as quite slow, stating that it would be easy to upgrade a few sites in each city and claim that you’ve rolled 4G out, but that Vodafone won’t make 4G available somewhere until it’s truly ready, so that its customers will be able to see a clear difference, with a fast reliable service in most or all areas of any city where 4G is available.
“This is not the end of anything; it’s just the start. The network will always evolve, but we want the start to be really good. That’s why we’re holding on until we know that the experience is right” Yago said.
In regards to long term plans Vodafone aims to bring 4G to 98% of the UK population, but right now, today, the network is just focussed on getting London right.