In this series of blogs, we’re exploring the UK’s four major networks, including their history, their advantages and disadvantages, future plans, and signal coverage.
This blog focuses on Vodafone, from its beginnings as the UK’s first mobile network to today, as one of the UK’s largest.
Vodafone’s history can be traced back to 1982 when its parent company Racal Electronics was awarded the UK’s inaugural cellular telephone licence.
The name was announced, and Vodafone officially launched in 1985, with the first-ever call on a mobile network being made between Parliament Square and Surrey.
Fast forward to 1992 and the world’s first-ever SMS text message was sent via Vodafone, and it simply read: “Merry Christmas”.
By 1995, they had 1 million customers, and by 1999, 5 million customers were onboard with Vodafone.
As the years progressed, Vodafone looked to expand and make the most of technological advances. In 2000, they obtained the UK’s first 3G licences for £5.9 billion, opening the door to more opportunities in the digital age.
The first 3G call was then made in 2001, with Vodafone hitting 7.9 million customers.
Vodafone was at the heart of the UK’s 4G launch in London in 2013, which then expanded into an additional 80 towns and cities by the end of the year.
Home broadband and WIFI Calling was introduced in 2015 before roaming charges in 50 European countries were abolished in 2017.
Vodafone launched VOXI, a new mobile offering for those aged 29 and under was launched in 2017. VOXI targets key aspects that appeal to younger consumers such as social media, music, and internet data usage, rather than more traditional mobile phone contract metrics.
In 2019, 5G went live in 15 towns and cities in the UK, as well as 55 towns and cities in Europe, heralding a new era in mobile data.
Vodafone also led the Shared Rural Network Agreement with the Government and other mobile network operators, with the aim of increasing rural mobile coverage to 95% of UK landmass by 2025.
Several different operators use the Vodafone network, including:
Wireless communications service providers that don’t own the wireless network infrastructure via which they provide their services, such as Virgin, Talkmobile, and Lebara, are known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs).
With 99% population coverage on 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, Vodafone has a similar level of coverage to EE and O2, but their signal coverage in rural areas is among the best.
Vodafone is the UK’s third-biggest mobile network provider with a 15% market share but has significant advantages as one of the earliest adopters of new technologies.
They were at the forefront of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G adoption in the UK and will likely be the first to adopt new technology in the future.
Through VOXI, they also segment their targeted markets to offer something different for younger customers, meaning that they have a great variety of options – whatever you’re looking for.
Though nothing has officially been confirmed, it’s expected that Vodafone will be switching off its 3G network by 2023, though that could be brought forward.
Plans to increase the 5G rollout in the UK are already underway, and a deal was struck with O2 to exchange some frequencies that they’re operating on to bring them closer together and improve signal quality and reliability.
Vodafone’s coverage breakdown in the UK is as follows:
2G – 99%
3G – 99%
4G – 99%
5G – Available in 100 locations
4G download and upload speeds on Vodafone are 22.4/8.5Mbps, which is second behind EE out of the main 4 mobile network providers.