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Vodafone Flirts With Femto Rival

Vodafone revealed that it is playing the field when it comes to indoor coverage products as it announced trials of 3G repeater technology at last week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. (See Vodafone Trials Femto Alternative.)

But the news doesn't mean Vodafone is ready to jilt femtocells. The operator sees the two technologies as complementary.

Vodafone Egypt is trialing 3G repeaters from Korean vendor C&S Microwave. And Vodafone says there are trials underway in several other markets.

"We see femtos and repeaters as complimentary," said Alan Law, new technologies and innovation manager at Vodafone, speaking at the FemtoZone event at MWC.

The operator says the repeaters can improve cellular reception for a range of up to 9 meters.

While both repeaters and femtos improve indoor cellular coverage, they do so in different ways. Repeaters boost existing cellular signals from the macro network, while femtocells add a new small cell to the network and connect back to the operator's core network via customers' own broadband line.

Vodafone isn't the only operator employing repeaters to improve indoor coverage. In Ireland, 3 Ireland won the bid for a national program to provide broadband coverage for the entire country by 2010, and a key part of the operator's application was the repeaters it will use from Nextivity Inc. to cover hard-to-reach areas inside homes and offices. (See 3 Goes Indoors With Nextivity and Hutchison Goes to Ireland.)

Femtocells are "ready"
In Spain, Vodafone recently expanded its femtocell trial to about 50 enterprise customers to test the Vodafone Access Gateway, which is supplied by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. . The operator is also testing femtos from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See Vodafone, O2 Test Femtocells, Huawei Lands More Femtocell Action, Vodafone Eyes Femto Service This Year, Vodafone RFP Fuels Femtocells, Vodafone CEO Seeks Cheap Femtos, and Vodafone Picks Femto Vendors.)

"The underlying femto technology is ready," said Vodafone's Law. "It does what it says on the tin."

Law would not say to when Vodafone would launch commercial services, but said the first offering was "likely" to be a stand-alone femtocell and that the service propositions were being tailored to each of Vodafone's markets.

"The simplest proposition is coverage related," he said. "But it's not the most sophisticated."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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