Vodafone’s 5G network should be getting a much-needed boost, because the company has started rolling out a new type of antenna designed by Ericsson, which is set to improve 5G coverage, performance and capacity.
This antenna – dubbed the Interleaved AIR 3218 – can do all this without increasing the footprint of the average mast, as it combines both the antenna and a radio unit into a single unit, allowing for a smaller footprint than previous designs.
Combining these two components into a single unit also makes this easier to mount, whether to rooftops, poles, towers, or walls, which in turn makes network site installations and upgrades quicker and easier than ever, so Vodafone can roll out 5G infrastructure faster – particularly in areas which were previously held up by planning law or building regulations.
So that’s how this antenna will help improve 5G coverage, but what about 5G speeds and capacity? Well, unlike previous antenna designs, the Interleaved AIR 3218 can transmit mobile data over all of the 5G frequencies used by Vodafone, without the need for additional antenna units. This allows the network to use Massive MIMO (the transmitting and receiving of more than one data signal simultaneously) to easily add more performance and capacity to the mast without increasing its size.
On top of all that, the Interleaved AIR 3218 uses the latest Ericsson Silicon processor, which according to Vodafone, allows for high performance while still being energy efficient. This energy efficiency is further helped by the antenna and radio unit being a single piece of equipment.
Evangelia Tzifa, Chief Technology Officer, Networks & Managed Services, Ericsson UK & Ireland, said: “This is a gamechanger for Vodafone and for the UK deployment of 5G Massive MIMO. Together, we are increasing 5G capacity without growing visual antenna footprint on site.
“By being able to do more with less we are bringing the benefits of next-generation connectivity to more people in the UK, but also reducing any impact on the environment and continuing our journey to break the energy curve”.
Exactly what Vodafone needs
This sounds like it would be a positive upgrade for any network, but it should be especially beneficial to Vodafone, as in both 5G coverage of key locations and 5G speeds, Vodafone looks to be trailing Three and EE.
For the former, we track which networks offer 5G coverage in 120 major towns and cities across the UK, and at last count Vodafone offered 5G in 82, compared to 88 on O2, 108 on Three, and 111 on EE.
For speeds, most independent tests put Vodafone in third place – ahead of O2 but behind Three and EE. For example, some of the latest data we have is an April 2023 report from Opensignal, which put Vodafone’s average 5G download speed at 100.6Mbps. That’s higher than O2 with 75.0Mbps, but lower than EE’s 122.3Mbps or Three’s 237.7Mbps.
So hopefully, once Vodafone has installed more of these antennas it will start to close the gap.