PHOTO: T Mobile, Orange, Vodafone and 3
(Hutchison 3G) poles near Andover, Hampshire. O2 tower on opposite side of A303 not
pictured. I think these guys are gonna have to start to work together...
"Any idea what this is?" section - An occasional feature in which readers can help me to identify unknown structures. This previous entry turns out to be a 2.4 GHz wireless broadband internet base station for ISP Cwmni Deudraeth. Thanks to reader Jerry Lefever who originally identified it as wireless internet.
about this new one, it's a single sector antenna with some kind of backhaul antenna on
a temporary tower mounted on a trailer?
I believed it was a test rig for Vodafone as a new Vodafone base station appeared later at
the same location, but Chris Moulding of Cross Country Radio writes: "We hired the trailer mast to Public
Hub for them to run a trial site demonstrating their proposed network. Public Hub had won
the licence to provide wireless broadband services on 3.5 GHz in a part of southern
England. A short time after the demonstration they sold out to PCCW. The mast had a link
to their base and a sector antenna covering the nearest town." So this
particular mystery is solved.
1. The photos on this website are not free for use by anyone who feels like using them! Please do not borrow any of the photos on this website for use elsewhere without permission, please write to the webmaster for permission. (This will in normal circumstances be given, free of charge). If the photo was taken by someone other than me, I will refer the query to them.
2. Please note at this point, all of these photos were taken from outside the transmitter fenced enclosures (not only is entering against the law but it's also dangerous!). Some of the photos suffer from poor quality due to bad weather on the day they were taken. This is something I couldn't avoid. Some have been brightened artificially. Some have already been replaced, other replacements may follow
3. New during 2002/3/4: Hutchison 3G sites, O2 / T Mobile pylon site, Orange telegraph pole site, O2 discrete hilltop site, more Orange microcells, Vodafone discrete site on building, Vodafone microcells, small T Mobile tree, Orange 3G upgrades.
4. I am looking for the following base station types so I can add photos to this site: O2 'tree', any 3G especially for the existing networks, plus for any network: disguised installs, in-building or ex-building microcell sites, lampost sites. If you can give me locations or photos (in JPEG format, sent as an email attachment, one per email) then fill in the reply form. Don't send me JPEGs of base stations without writing first! I can't pay for base station photos but I will credit you as the author if I use a photo on this site.
Here below is a brief description of how the networks base stations vary, click on the highlighted bits to see the photos.
Alternatively, there is an index of all the photographs here.
You can view the South African base station photos here.
All the UK networks supply coverage using antennas mounted on: towers (which may be shared with other mobile operators or different services - for instance TV/FM broadcast main and relay stations), poles, buildings, watertowers, pylons, and even churches! NB for photos of UK broadcast sites, check out Mike Brown's website mb21.co.uk.
Vodafone GSM and 3G: Originally when the GSM network was deployed, the large (sectored) base stations for Vodafone were distinctive in that they almost always had directional antennas with transmitting elements that were open to the air (all the other networks with a few exceptional cases used enclosed antennas with grey coloured weather shields) . There were usually about four antennas (but sometimes three or two) mounted on each side of a triangular structure, thus providing coverage in three 120 degree sectors.
Vodafone equipment cabins are usually either dark or light green in colour (again this is unlike the other networks which use different colour enclosures), or a brick hut, usually with a warning notice (older type) (newer type) on. Vodafone base stations often have a microwave dish on them to link them with the rest of the network (the 'backhaul'), and sometimes vertical whip antennas for the transmission of the Vodapage and data services.
Vodafone also use much smaller (omnidirectional) base stations to fill in gaps in coverage between their main base stations. These consist of a metal pole with two vertical antennas at the top, shaped rather like a pitchfork. The equipment box is normally dark or light green. Orange have a similar base station but it's easy to spot the difference, the Vodafone pole has longer antennas spaced more widely apart than on Orange's poles.
There are variations on the 'pitchfork' design. Some of them have one antenna directly over the pole and the other offset, rather than both being set apart from it. Some of them just have a single antenna at the top of the pole.
However on these smaller sites, due to a need to increase capacity as subscriber numbers have increased, in nearly all cases over the last few years, the omni-directional antennas have been removed, and sector antennas fitted. Vodafone GSM 900 (single band) base stations normally have two or three directional antennas on. The older open Jaybeam antennas as used on the main base stations are gradually being replaced by the enclosed type (picture of label) manufactured by Alan Dick and Co of Cheltenham, England, which are now used on nearly all Vodafone base stations of all sizes. It's easy to tell they're Vodafone ones though, because they're usually rounded at the top and bottom so they're not exactly rectangular looking at them face-on. The enclosed antennas that the other networks use are rectangular shaped at the base. Not all Vodafone sector antennas are rounded like this though, here are two exceptions. (1 and 2)
Vodafone antennas can be sited on Vodafone poles, towers, shared masts, buildings, and other existing structures. They've located a base station in Wiltshire on an electricity pylon (here's a close-up), and they've launched their first base station which looks like a tree! It has the usual equipment hut at the foot, and three directional antennas at the top.
Vodafone and O2 have joined forces to design a fully integrated (shared) base station to cover the Highlands of Scotland. The base station consists of a light green equipment hut and tower surrounded by a wooden fence. The tower is painted in a khaki pattern, with a microwave dish on and four pole antennas at the top (two for Voda, two for O2) providing omni-directional coverage. Some of these sites are quite remote, and not all are shared with O2.
Vodafone also have a number of microcell sites. This may consist simply of a small box and mini antenna. These are used to provide in-building coverage in, say, airports and shopping centres, as well as outdoor coverage, for instance in town high streets, where there are localised areas of high mobile usage, or where the larger sites fail to provide adequate coverage, or where it's not possible to install a larger site.
Vodafone have introduced GSM1800 capacity to suppliment the core GSM900 system - where you see two antennas per sector on newer installations normally indicates that it's a dual band 900/1800 base station. Vodafone 3G may well be with us very soon - details to follow.
Particular favourite locations for Vodafone base stations are next to railway lines or stations (they have a deal with Railtrack for siting on their property), and on industrial estates, to ensure good reception for business users. Although some of their base stations are obvious, Vodafone are masters at hiding their antenna installations in sensitive areas so they are almost invisible and I would rate them the most environmentally sensitive of the UK networks in this respect. Here is just one example of a discrete Vodafone install, on a building.
ADDENDA / DEVELOPMENTS:
After a brief period during the 3G auction where Vodafone appeared to stop deploying 2G, they are once again deploying plenty of new 2G (GSM) sites as well as 3G in certain areas (details to follow).
(MORE PHOTOS: There is also the brilliant cellsites website at www.cellsites.co.uk - please visit it. You can also check out an excellent site run by Andy Wood, which also has photos of Vodafone base stations.)
O2 (Cellnet) GSM: The big positive thing I have to say is that O2 are having the foresight to usually use sectored (rather than omni-directional) base stations even in their smaller sites. This basically means greater call capacity in the area they cover and usually range as well. O2 usually use base stations manufactured by Motorola, although they have recently (Oct 2000) placed an order with Nokia for various different types of base station units.
O2's main base stations are distinctive and thus easy to identify. The largest sites almost always consist of four (but sometimes three or two) enclosed flat grey coloured antennas mounted on each side of a triangular structure on a tower, pole (very occasionally), building, or other, thus providing coverage in three 120 degree sectors. The equipment store is either a red brick hut, or in more recent installs, a grey metal hut. Many of these sites are being upgraded to provide additional GSM1800 coverage - the left hand GSM900 antenna is removed and replaced with a GSM1800 antenna. One of the three remaining GSM900 antennas in each sector is fitted with a dual feed so that the capacity at 900 MHz is not reduced. O2 were the first network in the UK to introduce a dual band system.
Fewer O2 base stations have a microwave link to connect them to the network (backhaul) than for Vodafone, Orange and T Mobile, this is because O2 used to have (as part of BT) easy access to the BT cable or fibre infrastructure, but they are sometimes used in rural areas. Most O2 base stations have a large sign on them with the O2 logo on it and a phone number at O2 HQ in Slough to call in the event of an emergency. In Wales they're also written in Welsh. Other networks base stations have similar signs on them as well but they're usually less obvious and difficult to read outside the enclosure.
A very small number of older O2 base stations use open (unenclosed) antennas on a tower or pole, or just have three pole antennas to provide sectored coverage, particularly in rural and or scenic areas but these are less common.
O2 also have a smaller GSM base station which consists of a tower (or pole, but usually tower) with three enclosed flat grey antennas at the very top, each pointing outwards from the center (ie pointing 120 degrees apart), to provide three 120 degree sectors. These sometimes have a microwave link on, but not usually. They have a light or dark grey equipment hut as used by the main base station above. Orange confusingly have a similar looking base station but you can tell if it's a O2 one, because there's a slight gap between the antennas at the top and the tower is different. Use of this smaller base station in towns often means mounting the three antennas pointing outwards, from three corners of the top of a building. In rural areas O2 sometimes provide housing for the 'local residents'! I was always slightly puzzled with these particular base stations that the antennas seemed to point slightly up in the air, rather than along the ground, I had always wondered whether this was mis-alignment, but apparently the signal from these antennas is electronically tilted downward by 6 degrees or so.
A few of the smaller sites just have two directional antennas at the top of a pole or on a shared tower. The two directional antennas provide omni-directional coverage in two 180 degree arcs rather than sectored coverage with the usual three antennas. This is particularly used to provide additional/fill-in coverage along a stretch of road, rather than a populated area. The smallest stand-alone O2 site appears to be a pole with a single omni-directional antenna on the top, similar to the Vodafone design.
O2 and Vodafone have joined forces to design a fully integrated (shared) base station to cover the Highlands of Scotland. The base station consists of a light green equipment hut and tower surrounded by a wooden fence. The tower is painted in a khaki pattern, with a microwave dish on and four pole antennas at the top (two for Voda, two for BT Cellnet) providing omni-directional coverage. Some of these sites are quite remote. O2 have not taken up the option on all the sites, so some of these units have been deployed for Vodafone coverage only.
A particular favourite of O2 (but not exclusive to them) when not using a tower or building, is to put their base stations on watertowers. I've seen this many times. BT Cellnet have also now started putting sites on pylons. The cabinets are located in an enclosure underneath the pylon.
The latest discrete hilltop site used by O2 consists of two sector antennas on a wooden pole, with stone equipment cabin. Very dinky. Orange have a similar design.
O2 also have a number of microcell sites. These may consist simply of a mini antenna and small equipment box. These are used to provide in-building coverage in, say, airports and shopping centres, as well as outdoor coverage, for instance in town high streets, where there are localised areas of high mobile usage, or where the larger sites fail to provide adequate coverage, or where it's not possible to install a larger site. O2 apparently have a deal with McDonalds to site microcell transmitters on their high street outlets.
O2 also run temporary/transportable base stations. These are consist of a small tower usually with two directional antennas at the top, mounted on a trailer structure. These are used to provide temporary coverage (usually to cover a blackspot on a major road), until a permanent tower can be located in the area, or to increase capacity or quality of coverage at special events.
O2 are still deploying some 2G sites - not sure what the current situation is with 3G deployment, although they have signed some sort of agreement to work together with T Mobile.
(MORE PHOTOS: There is also the brilliant cellsites website at www.cellsites.co.uk - please visit it. You can check out an excellent site run by Andy Wood, which also has photos of O2 base stations.)
Orange GSM and 3G: Like Vodafone, Orange use directional antennas on towers or buildings (or poles in scenic areas) for their larger sites, and occasionally omni-directional 'pole' for their smaller fill-in sites.
As with O2, I consider most Orange base stations to be pretty obvious, but as with all the networks there are a few examples of discrete installs. Several years ago Orange built the UK's first base station which looks like a tree, it has green coloured equipment huts at the foot of the 'trunk' and 'branches' disguise the six antennas at the top. The first of these sites to be opened is located near Cockermouth in Cumbria. There is now a second type of Orange tree, a Scots Pine model. It has the usual Orange equipment cabinets at the base, branches and three sectored antennas at the top. Orange also mount their antennas on existing structures such as watertowers.
The main Orange base stations use two enclosed grey coloured antennas mounted at each corner of a triangular structure on a tower, pole, building, or other. This provides coverage in three 120 degree sectors. This arrangement is the classic GSM1800 structure and is common to both Orange and T Mobile. There is usually a microwave dish to link the base station into the network. The equipment is nearly always encased in a light grey housing. Sometimes in scenic areas a stone hut is used.
Unlike for the other networks which usually have just one hut, Orange base stations often have two or three, each to house a different bit of kit (although the net result is the same!). There's also a mains isolating box accessable from outside the enclosure. The Orange tower, when used, is quite distinctive, with a change in gradient as it nears the ground. It's quite squat looking compared to the other networks. There are nearly always three lightning conductors sticking up at the top of the tower. There's usually a small white label with red writing on the equipment housing saying the equipment is operated by Orange, also there are often general electrical and/or RF warning notices.
During 2003, new wideband sector antennas are being fitted on existing Orange sites, with additional feeds and cables run in, to accomodate 3G equipment. Therefore the 3G and 2G (GSM) services will run through the same antennas. In some cases the new antennas are being fitted to existing towers or poles, in others, on a new pole/tower in the same location.
Very occasionally the six antennas on the main Orange base station may be mounted slightly differently, each pointing 60 degrees apart, rather than the standard design described above.
The Orange pole (omni-directional) base station is similar to the Vodafone one (as above), but with shorter antennas and a narrower seperation between them. The equipment hut is light grey unlike for Vodafone, which is another identifier. One of the smallest stand-alone sites is a pole with a single enclosed omni-directional antenna at the top - Vodafone and O2 have similar models. Although omni-directional sites have become rare in more populated areas on all the networks as capacity becomes more of an issue.
As with all the other networks, in towns, Orange often mount directional antennas on the top of buildings. These sites are often difficult to identify as belonging to a particular network.
There is also an Orange base station which looks like the O2 small base station, described above (with three directional antennas at the top). The only distinctions that it's not a O2 one is that the antennas are mounted absolutely next to each other at the top and the tower (including base mounting) is slightly different.
Sometimes Orange install base stations that do not have equal coverage in all directions, where this is not necessary (for instance base stations mounted on the side of a hill)..
In scenic areas, Orange can come up with a solution to reduce visual impact of their base stations. For instance this site consists simply of an equipment hut and two sector antennas. Other examples of discrete installs include this one on a building in Snowdonia.
Orange street furniture sites have now become quite common. Some include a fitting to make them look like a lampost. The latest ones are designed to look like telegraph poles and are very discrete indeed. The only giveaways are the cabinet, the lack of wires on the pole, and the label! O2 now have a similar site.
Orange also have a number of microcell sites. This may consist simply of a small box and mini antenna. These are used to provide in-building coverage in, say, airports and shopping centres, as well as outdoor coverage, for instance in town high streets, where there are localised areas of high mobile usage, or where the larger sites fail to provide adequate coverage, or where it's not possible to install a larger site.
Orange also run temporary /transportable base stations. These are consist of a small tower with antennas at the top, mounted on a trailer structure. These are used to provide temporary coverage until a permanent tower can be located in the area or at major events.
Orange sometimes use cell enhancers to improve coverage in small blackspots, such as road cuttings. I had an email from a chap at a company called Cross Country Radio, that used to design and install such antennas.
Nowadays Orange base stations don't just carry GSM tranmissions. This one has a TV relay on it. I've also seen a Vodafone site with a TV relay on it.
As far as the author is aware, Orange usually/always use
base station equipment manufactured by Nokia.
(MORE PHOTOS: There is also the brilliant cellsites website at www.cellsites.co.uk - please visit it. You can check out an excellent site run by Andy Wood, which also has photos of Orange base stations, including the omni-directional pole antenna and a temporary base station.)
T Mobile (One2One) GSM: The main T Mobile base station looks similar to the Orange one, with the following differences. The tower is different, with no gradient change on it, less squat looking, and it usually only has one or two lightning conductors on it at the top instead of three for Orange. Often there's a microwave dish to link the base station into the network. There is usually only one hut for equipment and it's light grey. There's also a mains isolating box accessable from outside the enclosure. There's often a small sign on the door or gate of the hut saying that the site is run by T Mobile. There's also a slightly different, older design of tower, and also a newer design of tower. Sometimes in scenic areas this main base station is mounted on a pole rather than a tower.
T Mobile also have a smaller base station with just three directional antennas, one mounted on each corner at the top of a tower or pole, (often with three equipment cabinets at the base) as well as a new omni-directional base station manufactured by Nortel.
T Mobile, like Vodafone and Orange, have a 'tree' base station. As well as the original type a new smaller (rather dinky) tree type has been introduced, Here are the trunk, cabinets and branches. There is also a lampost site, with a small equipment cabinet next to a discrete monopole. Here's another similar monopole design - in green! T Mobile also have a number of microcell sites. This may consist simply of a small box and mini antenna. These are used to provide in-building coverage in, say, airports and shopping centres, as well as outdoor coverage, for instance in town high streets, where there are localised areas of high mobile usage, or where the larger sites fail to provide adequate coverage, or where it's not possible to install a larger site.
As with all the other networks, in towns, T Mobile often mount directional antennas on the top of buildings. These sites are often difficult to identify as belonging to a particular network.
T Mobile have disguised installations in environmentally sensitive areas, including this one on a church, with antennas and a microwave backhaul mounted on the church tower. T Mobile have also now started putting sites on pylons. The cabinets are located in an enclosure underneath the pylon.
T Mobile also have a number of transportable base stations complete with equipment cabin, trailer, bases, tower and antennas for providing coverage for temporary events, or where there are problems with siting or planning for a permanent tower. Soon for temporary capacity enhancements (for the Grand Prix etc) there is a mobile street furniture type mast with a VSAT backhaul, with no hand in or out to the local network, just stand-alone capacity.
T Mobile sometimes use cell enhancers to improve coverage in small blackspots, such as road cuttings.
T Mobile generally use base stations manufactured by Ericsson or Nortel.
I'm not sure what the current situation is with 3G deployment, although T-Mobile have signed some sort of agreement to work together with O2.
(MORE PHOTOS: There is also the brilliant cellsites website at www.cellsites.co.uk - please visit it. You can check out an excellent site run by Andy Wood, which also has photos of Vodafone, O2, and Orange base stations.)
Hutchison 3G "3" (UMTS): Hutchison are rolling out the first phase of their new 3G network during 2002/2003. Here is a site. The antenna, equipment cabinets etc look not unlike a GSM site funnily enough.
Dolphin (PMR TETRA): Dolphin rolled out the first phase of their network in 1999. Here is an overview of an omni-directional base station (this is a temporary installation), a close-up of the antenna cluster, and of the microwave link.
As well as omni-directional sites, there are those which use sector antennas similar to those used by the GSM networks. This site, sharing with T Mobile, has two sector antennas. (here's a close-up).
Dolphin also have a transportable base station for special events, here is one at the Farnborough Air Show, with sector antennas mounted at the top of a tower mounted on an equipment cabin with built-in mains generator.
The company behind Dolphin, TIW, have recently obtained a UMTS licence in the UK auction.
Ionica: This company has now closed it's service and it wasn't actually a mobile phone network, it was a fixed phone network using radio links. But here are some photos anyway of the base station, with close-up of the antennas and equipment cabin (marquee!). Ionica was based in Cambridge, England.
Not all the photos on this site have a link from this
descriptions page, for a
full list, please refer to the index.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to: Matt at Vodafone for directions to the Voda tree, Andy Tebbutt-Russell for directions to the T-Mobile tree, and my brother Steve for the use of his camera for some of these photos! Thanks also to those people that have kindly donated photos and information, some anonymously - you know who you are!
Mike Pratt, December 2004