Vodafone and O2 expect their mast sharing agreement to be completed by the end of 2017, almost two years after it was originally predicted for completion.
The project, known as Project Beacon, was established in 2012 and saw Vodafone and O2 greatly improve their signals by combining 18,000 masts into a single grid. Today, that means both companies enjoy a population coverage of 97%, just 1% away from their target.
Investment in the project now totals £2m and over 400 base stations are regularly updated under Beacon, which has in turn has increased call stability and bandwidth, improving mobile internet speeds along the way. To that end, dropped call rates have fallen from 0.67% to 0.47%. This drops to 0.09% in cities such as London, which it claims is better than Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Vodafone UK head of networks Kye Prigg said: “We are now 79 per cent complete. More than 400 base stations are upgraded monthly, which means we have a brand-new network compared to the likes of EE and Three who have quite an old one.
“We expect Beacon to be completed by the end of this financial year in December. There will be a few sites left over, which include remote areas because it’s hard to bring fibre to them. We are working on those, but we expect Beacon to be more than 99.9 per cent finished by the end of the year.”
It’s great news for Vodafone customers, who had long complained of poor signal strength compared to competing networks, and is credited for driving increased contact Vodafone signups.
Meanwhile, Ofcom have put the brakes on Vodafone and BT in their latest spectrum auction, in a bid to help smaller networks get on board with the new bandwidth.
Ofcom said that they would auction licenses to use the 190MHz spectrum in two frequency bands, which would increase the airwaves available to mobile companies by almost one third. Of that, 40 MHz of spectrum would be auctioned in the 2.3 GHz band, which is already supported by most recent smartphones, and could be used by the networks immediately after release to provide additional capacity for their existing services like the new 1Gbps service recently launched by EE.
The 150MHz auction would take place in the 3.4GHz band, which is expected to be used for future ‘5G’ services when more mobile devices support the technology.
However, EE and Vodafone will be restricted in the auction, with Vodafone only able to access 160MHz of spectrum in the auction. Ofcom say the reason for this is that EE and Vodafone current dominate the UK’s spectrum, and allowing Vodafone to buy more would only widen the gap currently witnessed in the market.