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Seals and other marine mammals around the UK coast and in other parts of the world are to be equipped with the latest marine smart tags using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology in a world first.

The new project is the result of a partnership between the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Instrumentation Group at the University of St Andrews and Vodafone UK to aid research into the rapid decline of some species of marine mammals. In the UK, some populations of Harbour seal – one of two resident UK species – have declined sharply, by up to 90% in some areas over the last 10 years.

The partnership will allow SMRU, a global leader in marine science, to equip and link smart tags worn harmlessly by seals, as well as turtles, with Vodafone’s M2M technology and global network to significantly improve the reach and quality of transmission in data collected from them when they surface to breathe.  The data collected is vital to SMRU and associated research organisations worldwide. It will assist them in providing impartial advice to government bodies, industry and offshore energy companies on the best practices in safeguarding seal populations and wider marine conservation.

M2M technology is being used to connect a wide range of systems to the ‘internet of things’; from cars and bicycles to heart monitors and homes – however, this is the first time it has been used to connect marine mammals.

Vodafone’s global M2M network provides a single and dedicated communications network from coastlines around the world to allow data about a seal’s location, dive behaviour and its oceanic environment, to be sent directly from the tags to SMRU for analysis.

SMRU developed the world’s first data capture and relay tags in 1982 and has progressively improved their design and functionality for in its own use in the UK and by similar research establishments elsewhere in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. A marine smart tag, connected to Vodafone’s global M2M platform and third-party satellite services, is lightweight, no larger than a mobile phone and can withstand depths of up to 200 metres. Fixed to the fur of seals with harmless adhesive, the tags drop off during the animals’ annual moult.

SMRU, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), aims to produce up to 100 Vodafone M2M marine smart tags per year for use both in the UK and with other institutions all around the world. The SMRU Instrumentation Group is recognised as a world leader in the design of innovative telemetry systems for marine mammals.

Vodafone’s M2M technology provides SMRU with a number of benefits, including:

  • A unique core network built specifically for M2M services;
  • A ubiquitous experience utilising both Vodafone owned and partner networks, offering access to hundreds of mobile networks worldwide, giving scientists more opportunities to collect data from ‘tagged’ marine mammals from more places, including remote areas and across different maritime borders;
  • Avoids any unforeseen data roaming charges if the seal travels to a different country as it works across a single system:
  • Enables SMRU to standardise the smart tags to work on one system rather than worry about working across multiple mobile phone technologies, and;
  • Marine scientists can control directly the active state of every M2M SIM in each tag anywhere in the world from a single PC.

SMRU’s Deputy Director Dr Bernie McConnell said: “Through the combination of technology and science, SMRU and Vodafone can help businesses and governments accelerate economic growth and responsible environmental management. Marine data collected is fundamental in balancing the health of the sea with society’s need to harvest food and energy from it. ”

Vodafone UK’s head of corporate responsibility Emer Boulter added: “Vodafone is providing its M2M technology and consultancy to help Bernie and the SMRU team to improve their data gathering and so help shape better informed policy decisions and better stewardship of the seas. We are delighted to partner with SMRU and hope that our technology and resources can go some way in continually improving environmental assessments in order to protect local sea mammal populations.”

SMRU and Vodafone began installing the M2M service this month for use on seals around the Northern Isles and western Scotland in Spring next year, for a project backed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage. They also plan to work together at Vodafone’s laboratories in the UK to investigate ways to improve the speed and efficiency of relaying data ashore.  After a dive, seals come to the sea surface to breathe only for short periods.  So SMRU and Vodafone will continue to investigate ways to use these brief ‘data communication’ periods without expending too much battery energy.

– ends –

 Note to Editors

The Sea Mammal Research Unit is based at the Gatty Marine Laboratory at the University of St Andrews. The acknowledged international expertise of Marine Science at St Andrews has led the University to commence a fundraising appeal for a new flagship building, seeking a £9.6m investment to provide a new aquarium and research facility in the East Sands at St Andrews.

 A short film on #ConnectedSeals can be viewed here:

Images of the #ConnectedSeals project can be found at:

For further information:

Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: 01635 666777

Dr Bernie McConnell

Sea Mammal Research Unit,

Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews,

St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8LB, Scotland.

Direct     +44 (0)1334 463280

Mobile   +44 (0)7764 161891

Skype      berniemcconnell

The University of St Andrews Communications Office

01334 467310



  • Vodafone UK lights up rural Herefordshire not-spot with reliable 3G coverage
  • Fownhope is the latest community to be connected in Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal programme
  • Fownhope’s ROSS units are already taking an average of 150 mobile calls and supporting over 8,500 data sessions a day
  • Part of approximately £2 billion Vodafone is spending on its UK network and services across 2014 and 2015

Vodafone UK has announced the beautiful rural community of Fownhope in Herefordshire as the latest community in a rural mobile not-spot location to receive 3G coverage with Vodafone’s Rural Open Sure Signal (ROSS) programme.

Situated on the banks of the River Wye in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside, Fownhope has until now suffered from unreliable mobile coverage and slow network speeds. The ROSS programme uses Vodafone’s innovative Sure Signal technology to bring high quality 3G voice services and much needed access to the internet via mobile devices to communities in some of the UK’s most beautiful and remote areas.  About the size of a cereal box, the Open Sure Signal units connect to existing broadband lines to create 3G coverage, and are installed high up on chimney breasts or the eaves of buildings.

The ROSS programme is a national initiative by Vodafone UK to provide reliable mobile access to up to 100 rural communities in mobile not-spot locations. Launched in July 2014, with support from local MPs, councils and rural action groups, the programme received an overwhelming response, with applications from communities across the country from the Shetland Islands to Cornwall and from the mountains of Snowdonia to the Norfolk coast.

Mobile connectivity plays a vital role in keeping communities in touch and helps support local economies. However, rural and remote locations often miss out on advantages provided by modern communication tools, due to the complexity of delivering network coverage. This can be because of the geography of the area or difficulties with planning permissions in places of outstanding natural beauty. The ROSS programme uses innovative ‘femtocell’ technology to provide an alternative solution to bring 3G mobile access in locations where it isn’t possible for networks to provide coverage through traditional means.

As part of the ROSS programme, Vodafone teams have now surveyed each of the 100 communities which were added to the programme at the end of last year.  The surveys included physical ground assessments by Vodafone engineers as well as detailed fixed broadband speed checks. The teams have also drawn up plans for viable communities to illustrate where the equipment will be sited. The process saw some of the initial communities having their implementation postponed until their community broadband speeds and availability have improved.

Jorge Fernandes, Vodafone UK Chief Technology Officer, said: “I am delighted that Fownhope has joined our Rural Open Sure Signal programme. Mobile connectivity is an essential service for communities and businesses to thrive in today’s digital world and support local economies. As part of the Rural Open Sure Signal programme, we are committed to investing in our network to provide access even in remote locations where it is otherwise almost impossible to reach. The number of calls and data sessions the unit is supporting every day, in an area where there was marginal coverage previously, shows the significant benefit the technology is making to members of the community. I am excited to see the transformation for Fownhope and other communities which have been successful for this pioneering programme.”

Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire said: “When the proposed mast was cancelled I met local people to discuss how we could get a service that worked for Fownhope. We needed the new fibre optic broadband cable to be connected to get on to the Vodafone Rural Open Sure Signal (ROSS) programme, a national initiative by Vodafone UK to provide reliable mobile access to rural communities. Following my presentation of a petition to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport at the time, and a number of questions to the Government and phone providers Fownhope was accepted to the ROSS programme which has now gone live. This is an excellent outcome for Fownhope and I am delighted to have been able to play my part in delivering this important win for the community. This campaign and the successful outcome has made me rethink my current mobile phone provider, as Vodafone has demonstrated a real commitment to solving the problems of mobile phone signal for those in rural communities.”

Kevin Braybrook, Village champion for Fownhope commented: “Nearly 18 months after we first started campaigning for better mobile phone signal in Fownhope we are delighted that the Vodafone ROSS system has gone live.  The campaign for a better mobile phone signal involved numerous Fownhope residents who helped collect signatures, monitor cell phone signal strength and lobby OFCOM.  Bill Wiggin played an important part in taking our campaign to parliament and Vodafone are so far, the only company to have taken a proactive role in bringing better mobile phone signal to rural areas like Fownhope. The Parish Council is grateful to Vodafone for providing the system at no cost to the village, and to the Vodafone engineers who did a great job designing and installing the system.”

As well as using Rural Open Sure Signal to plug rural “not-spots”, Vodafone is spending around £2 billion on its network and services across the country over 2014 and 2015.  This includes the provision of HD (High Definition) Voice technology on its 3G network and the extension of its 4G coverage to 679 cities and towns and thousands of smaller communities across the UK.

Further communities will be announced over the next few months. For more information on the programme, visit

For more information please contact

Vodafone UK Media Relations

01635 666777

Notes to editors:

  • The programme involves the use of innovative ‘femtocell’ technology. Vodafone UK has pioneered the use of this technology with Vodafone Sure Signal. Launched in 2009, Vodafone Sure Signal is used by hundreds of thousands of people across the UK every day to boost their in-building 3G coverage. It plugs straight into a home broadband line. For more information visit
  • Pictures from the launch event are available on request.



Vodafone UK’s 2015 Christmas advert has arrived, available to watch now on YouTube and set to air for the first time on British TV from tomorrow, Thursday 26 November.

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