The Sure Signal boxes from Vodafone have been a boon to people who have flaky mobile reception on the Vodafone mobile network in their home or business, but it has always been held back by the need to register the mobile number. The launch of a community wide Open Sure Signal by Vodafone is changing all this.
The new Open Sure Signal is small external device generally mounted near the roof line of a building and has a much greater range of up to 500 metres compared to the indoor devices. Crucially any Vodafone connected device will be able to use the service and thus make use of phone calls or 3G data services in areas where 3G or even 2G services are not available.
The older Sure Signal boxes are a simple purchase which you can plug in and use, but Vodafone is looking for 'village champions' and locations to host the new units which require a stable 4 Mbps broadband connection to operate.
Looking at the impact of the existing Sure Signal on a broadband connection indicates that each call uses around 70 Kbps of data in each direction, and 3G data connections appear to top out at around 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload even when the underlying broadband connection is several times faster. The varying data use means that ideally the Open Sure Signal is best running on a fairly lightly used broadband connection, or if a local shop provides Wi-Fi adding the Sure Signal is another way of attracting people to the vicinity.
One of the problems many rural campaigners will quickly raise is that fixed line broadband speeds are often worst in areas without 3G reception, so the Sure Signal may not have enough speed to operate and no doubt there will be villages where this is the case, but the situation has improved greatly in the last 18 months. Working to the ONS definitions of what is a rural postcode we have analysed our speed tester results and can reveal that rural areas have seen median speeds climb from 6.5 Mbps download (0.7 Mbps upload - March 2013) to 11.6 Mbps download (1 Mbps upload - August 2014). This is still behind the major urban areas of the UK which currently manage a median download of 20.5 Mbps (2.7 Mbps upload).
The bottleneck for the Open Sure Signal with respect to phone calls is the upload side of things, though as more villages get FTTC we can expect to see the median upload speed climbing and this being less of an issue.