Vodafone brings femtos to Europe

European carrier Vodafone said Tuesday that it will make femtocells available in the UK from the 1st of July.

The mobile operator made the announcement at the Femtocell World Summit in London Tuesday morning, and Mike Roberts, principal analyst for Informa Telecoms & Media said that the move marked the first commercial femto launch in Europe.

Vodafone has opted for what it hopes is a consumer-friendly name for the devices, which are effectively mini base stations, however. The ‘Access Gateway’ is described as a “neat box, similar in size to a router, that plugs straight into any home broadband line to bring customers improved and more reliable 3G coverage indoors.”

The unit will be free on selected tariffs, and the carrier will be bundling femtocells into a number of phone packages. These include an entry level tariff at £15 per month, which includes a Sony Ericsson C510 HSPA phone, 100 minutes and 500 texts; and another bundled for £30 per month, including an HTC Magic Android-based handset, 600 minutes and unlimited texts.

Europe’s first commercially available femtocell, which is manufactured by Alcatel Lucent,  can also be bought standalone for £160, or on a monthly charge from £5.

However, the promise that the Access Gateway will work with any broadband connection calls forth the issue of net neutrality. While Vodafone does offer a fixed line service in the UK, the company is effectively proposing to send its traffic over other carriers’ networks. The problem here is that Vodafone can’t guarantee quality of service on another operator’s network, and some opponents of net neutrality argue that it would be reasonable for the fixed line operator to cripple the mobile traffic travelling over its network.

Mobile operators such as Vodafone may have little choice, however. In-building 3G coverage is often problematic, and Kenny Graham, head of new technologies and innovation at Vodafone, said the immediate greatest need for mobile users today is reliable coverage throughout the home for both voice and data services.

“This is huge for the femtocell industry. A launch by a major operator in tough economic times shows they’re convinced there’s a strong business case for femtocells, initially for providing better voice and data coverage in homes, with more advanced applications and services to come,” said Informa’s Mike Roberts.

Also at the conference, US carrier AT&T confirmed plans for a full commercial national launch of femtocells by the end of 2009.

Among other big operators, Japan’s SoftBank Mobile launched femtocells in February 2009.


  1. Avatar Barry 23/06/2009 @ 3:19 pm

    Why, while sitting at home, would I want to unplug my broadband connected wireless router and whack in a £160 femtocell so that I can access the internet on my phone instead of my laptop? Don’t think I’ll be investing just yet….

    • Avatar Simon Saunders 23/06/2009 @ 5:18 pm

      You don’t have to unplug anything. Just plug the femtocell into your router and you can access services on your phone and laptop – simultaneously.

  2. Avatar Arther 23/06/2009 @ 4:27 pm

    If I have to pay 160.. .yes, there has to be a good reason. But if its part of my contract…”free”.

    I think the point that the 1st commenter misses is that for a significant group of people, when they go indoors they lose good coverage (3G and 2G) and for others there is none, yet a femto provides instant internal coverage and local, so its low power and battery saving. The US reason for deploying CDMA femto’s

    For those loading movies and mp3’s local PC to Phone connection without going via the Network would be useful also (if provided).

    and 160 for the ability to keep using their one phone No at home, would be worthwhile – esp as a business cost.

  3. Avatar Kedar Thakar 23/06/2009 @ 5:34 pm

    There has to be some incentive to use Femto cells at home such as free voice calls or free data as lots of people do use their mobile at home, especially in the evening and very useful to have good indoor coverage to save battery life.

    I agree with Barry that unless there is incentive, why would I unplug my Wi-Fi router to plug in Femto cell?

    The real application can be with enterprise, in particular SMEs. Femto can provide good indoor coverage in office and provide good customer experience.

    There is clear business case for using Femto to provide coverage above and beyond 90% population coverage as it is much more cost effective.

    QoS on ADSL is an issue that needs to be tackled for good customer experience.

  4. Avatar ak 24/06/2009 @ 9:07 am

    does anyone know if ANY customer can get access to such a femto provided by VF or is it restricted to the customer ?

    • Avatar James Middleton 24/06/2009 @ 9:20 am

      In the femto demos I have seen there is usually some form of authentication so the user can choose which handsets to allow onto the femto.

    • Avatar Chester 24/06/2009 @ 10:50 am

      AK I believe anyone can buy an Access Gateway from a Vodafone shop for £160 but it will only work with registered Vodafone mobile number (I believe you can register up to four numbers).

  5. Avatar Chester 24/06/2009 @ 10:49 am

    So you pay Vodafone £160 so that they can use your broadband connection (which you pay for) to route your 3G connection so that they can charge you for it. Genius business model, I congratulate whoever came up with it. Get your customer to pay for the network kit that enhances your network, get them to pay the operating cost and then charge them to use it !!!

  6. Pingback: Femtocell market update for week of 22 June 2009 – part 1 « 3G In The Home

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