Brits Get Femtos From July 1
Vodafone UK is to launch a commercial femtocell service next week, making it the first operator to offer the tiny home base stations to consumers in Europe, the operator announced Tuesday morning.
The Vodafone Access Gateway, which is an Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) femto access point, will be available for the first time in the U.K. starting on July 1.
The news is a first for Vodafone, for Europe, and for Alcatel-Lucent. Vodafone is testing femtocells from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in Spain, but AlcaLu has beaten its Chinese rival to the punch with this first European launch at Vodafone. (See Vodafone Flirts With Femto Rival, Vodafone Eyes Femto Service This Year, Huawei Lands More Femtocell Action, and V'fone Trials Femtocells.)
The main driver behind Vodafone's U.K. launch is the need for better indoor coverage, according to Vodafone's head of new technology and innovation, Kenny Graham.
"Today, the immediate, greatest need is about providing reliable coverage in the home," he said, speaking at Avren's Femtocell World Summit in London. "It's not possible to reach every square inch in every home in every country."
The device is a standalone 3G femtocell co-developed by AlcaLu and Sagem Télécommunications SA , using Picochip 's femto chipsets. In these devices, Sagem provides the hardware and manufacturing and AlcaLu provides the software. (See PicoChip Unveils Low-Cost Femto Chip.)
Alcatel-Lucent is also providing Vodafone with the femtocell network gateway and providing the systems integration for the deployment.
The operator will offer the small home base stations for free on certain tariff plans. The first tariff plan costs £15 (US$24) per month and comes with the Ericsson C510 3G phone, 100 minutes of talk time, 500 texts, and the Vodafone Access Gateway for free.
The second tariff plan costs £30 ($49) per month, comes with 600 minutes of talk time, unlimited texts, and the Vodafone femto for free.
The femto will also be available for a one-off payment of £160 ($260) or leased for a monthly payment of £5 ($8) per month.
The service will be available on any home broadband connection. Vodafone, though, has not bundled the femtocell with its own At Home broadband service offering.
"If there's a killer app for femtocells, it's coverage at home," said Lee McDougall, senior product marketing manager at Vodafone UK, also speaking at the Avren event. "Customers want to use their phone for the bundled minutes they've paid for."
Since Vodafone has focused its initial launch on providing indoor coverage for 3G voice and SMS services, McDougall says there was no need to negotiate service-level agreements with other ISPs, which will be providing the backhaul from the femto to Vodafone's core network.
"[The femto] uses such a small amount of bandwidth… For a voice and messaging proposition we didn't have to worry about SLAs now," said McDougall.
So, my first question is: When can I get one?
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung