Friday 20 May 2022

Vodafone Explains Mobile Phone Mast

Questions related to what does a mobile phone mast consist of keeps popping up time and again. I looked at it some years back but it doesn't stop people asking additional questions. 

When the UK MNOs started their Shared Rural Network journey, Vodafone put together a nice primer on what does a mobile network mast consist of. Here is an extract from the article:

What do all the bits of a mast actually do?

  1. Antenna: Antennas send calls, texts and internet data to your smartphone using radio waves and in turn receive radio waves from it. The higher up an antenna is, the more likely it is that you’ll get a strong and reliable mobile signal from it. Most masts will have at least three antennas to provide coverage in every direction. Masts that need to serve more people, because they’re located in more heavily populated areas, will have more antennas.
  2. Radio unit: The radio unit generates the radio waves transmitted by the antennas. Traditionally, the radio unit was installed at ground level. Nowadays, they’re more likely to be installed higher up the mast closer to the antenna to help improve performance.
  3. Transmission/backhaul: Cables, traditionally copper but now far more likely to be fibre optic, are used to connect the mast with other masts and the rest of the Vodafone network in the UK. These are usually buried in the ground. In a few cases, a microwave dish is used instead.
  4. Cabin/cabinets: Located at ground level, these contain computers which communicate with other masts in the network. Additional equipment, such as a battery backup in case of power failure and connectors for the transmission/backhaul, are also stored here.
  5. Power: Most masts will draw their power from the National Grid; some will have their own renewable power source on-site. In a handful of cases, such as with temporary masts, power will instead be provided by a diesel generator.
  6. Microwave dish: In some locations, such as remote rural areas, a microwave satellite dish is used instead of fibre optic cables to act as transmission/backhaul, connecting the mast to the rest of Vodafone’s network. To do so, the dish must be within line of sight of a dish on another mast.

Why can’t you build it somewhere else?

Not all sites are suitable. To provide the strongest mobile signal to as wide an area as possible, there can’t be too many neighbouring buildings, trees or other geographical features in the way. These tend to block the mast’s signal.

Masts also need their own power and what’s known as “backhaul” – data connections to the rest of the network. To meet soaring demand for faster speeds, that backhaul often consists of fibre optic cables under the ground – it’s a common misconception that most of Vodafone UK’s masts communicate wirelessly with the rest of the network.

And to run these power and data lines to a mast, we have to negotiate with the owners of the land, and quite often, with the owners of land adjacent to it. Those negotiations aren’t just about how much rent we will pay, but how easily we can access those sites for construction, maintenance and repairs.

These so-called “wayleave” negotiations can take time – and sometimes break down completely – setting back mast construction by several months.

Why can’t you just build a shorter, less conspicuous mast?

The taller the mast, the wider the area it can cover and the more people it can provide with a fast and reliable mobile signal. Under current rules, most UK masts are around 25m (82ft) tall. But in fact 50m masts would provide a better, more far-reaching signal in many areas.

Update April 2021 – the UK Government has proposed rule changes that would allow new and existing masts to be up to five metres taller and two metres wider than they currently can be. This would not only help increase the range of their wireless signal, it would also make it easier for masts to be potentially shared with other mobile network operators, as more equipment can be fitted onto taller masts.

Who decides where masts are built?

Our engineers pick sites that best meet the technical, logistical and economic requirements for hosting a mast, but the local council has to grant planning permission for the building works to go ahead. So councils hold public consultations before making their decision and residents can have their say.

You can read the complete article here.

The old video of cell tower construction site is worth a watch and is embedded below:

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