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Vodafone to use satellites to boost 4G coverage; O2 sets 2025 net zero goal

Vodafone has backed a satellite-based system designed to improve its 4G and 5G mobile coverage without needing any specialised hardware in the handset. Meanwhile, rival network O2 has pledged to reach net zero carbon by 2025.

Branded SpaceMobile, the low-Earth-orbit (LEO), low-latency satellite network is being developed by the Texas-based AST & Science and will be the first in the world to connect directly to standard smartphones.

The firm said users can expect comparable data rates to networks running on terrestrial towers and they will seamlessly transfer between the two.

In addition to its investment in AST & Science, Vodafone has agreed to contribute technical, operational and regulatory expertise in support of the global deployment of SpaceMobile.

The technology could be particularly useful in rural areas, where setting up networks of broadcasting towers to provide coverage for just a small number of people can prove costly. For 5G, and to a lesser extent 4G, the radius of coverage from each tower is significantly reduced from previous generations.

Vodafone currently has mobile operations in 24 countries and partners with mobile networks in 42 more.

“SpaceMobile will be particularly transformative to the growing $1tr annual global mobile market because it will eliminate the coverage gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers moving in and out of connectivity every day,” said Abel Avellan, AST & Science chairman and CEO.

“It will also help the world’s most under-served communities to access the latest mobile services much sooner than predicted, helping more people to access the digital economy.”

Vodafone CEO Nick Read said SpaceMobile would further enhance the company’s network across Europe and Africa - especially in rural areas and during a natural or humanitarian disaster - for customers on their existing smartphones.

The space network will not be designed for high-density areas already covered by terrestrial networks, Vodafone said.

Meanwhile, rival network O2 has announced that it will reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 with plans to power the network with renewable energy. The company said it will work with its supply chain partners to reduce emissions across its entire business and network over the next five years.

This includes helping third-party landlords make the switch to renewables and reducing “supply chain emissions” by 2025.

It also plans to work the UK Smart Metering programme and encourage “flexible working technology”.

The firm’s chief executive Mark Evans said: “Today, we’re putting a stake in the ground. We want to go further and faster, setting the bar in our industry to tackle climate change and build the greenest network for our customers.

“Every office, every store, every mast. We will get the changes done to be a net zero business by 2025.

“Mobile can play a pivotal role to make our country more sustainable. From smart metering to smarter working.

O2 said it would report on its progress against the commitments annually and will have them independently assessed and audited.

Hugh Jones, managing director of business services at The Carbon Trust, which advises businesses on reducing their emissions, said: “We are pleased to have worked with O2 for over a decade and most recently providing advice on the reduction of their supply chain emissions by 30 per cent by 2025.

“This is a crucial step in helping the company achieve its ambitions.”

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