Vodafone one of first operators in world to deploy a miniaturised 4G network
Telecoms operators in every country are wrestling with how to connect the remotest areas with mobile coverage. This is perhaps even more challenging in my country, where we have more remote than many other places- let’s call it Middle Earth!
Anyway New Zealand is just a bit smaller than Italy, but with only 4 .5 million people living here compared to their 60 million.
The more remote a location is, the less economically viable it is to connect. That does not mean we give up. Far from it.
While Vodafone New Zealand’s mobile network covers 98% of our population, it only covers about 55% of the country’s geography and we want everyone to have access to mobile anywhere, at any time they need it.
The need for mobile coverage is never more acute than during an emergency situation. We have been working for a number of years on how to make our network more portable so that we can quickly deliver reliable temporary connections to any area.
We have recently created a working prototype called the Z-Car. The Z-Car is named after a UK TV series of the 1970s in which mobile police units provided help and support to new communities being established around Merseyside. Our Z-Car is a mobile network on wheels.
The Z-Car has a 4G small cell built into its boot which provides mobile coverage over a 2Km radius, even as the car is in motion.
The harder part technically was adding a low profile satellite antenna on the roof and connecting it to Vodafone’s global network. Download speeds of up to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) and 2 Mbps upload are achievable.
Now though the Z-Car can connect both people in a local area and provide access to the internet and international community.
Crucially the Z-Car can also communicate with the digital trunked radio systems (traditional ‘press to talk’) used by New Zealand’s emergency services. So the car can be used as a communication hub to help first response teams rapidly establish 4G connectivity within minutes of arriving on-site, or provide temporary remote coverage in disaster recovery operations, emergency responses, tactical situations, or even at special events.
We’ve already tested the satellite and small cell technology successfully in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam. More recently in New Zealand we also used the Z-Car in a live civil defence simulation for enterprise customers and emergency services.
There is more testing of the product to be done yet, but potentially the Z-Car, and perhaps Z-Boats or Z-Planes, will become an important resource in New Zealand to make our wildernesses safer.
Tony Baird has been Vodafone New Zealand’s Technology Director since 2014. Prior to that he was Head of Networks. He joined Vodafone five years ago from New Zealand’s rural broadband provider Farmside, where he was CEO and a part owner.
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