Small cells

Vodafone Throws Femtos at UK 'Notspots'

Vodafone UK will dot the British countryside with femtocells from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) in an upcoming trial to provide mobile broadband coverage to "notspots" in rural areas.

The mobile operator is calling for 12 rural communities to take part in the trial that will start in early 2012 and build on a pilot Vodafone has been running in the village of East Garston in West Berkshire. Vodafone says it is looking for local politicians, communities and the government to work with it to improve mobile Internet access in underserved areas.

Vodafone will test what it calls "open femto" technology, which allows any mobile user onto the femtocell when they are in range of the device. This compares with a "closed" femto approach that is typically used for residential femtocell services, whereby a user must be registered on the device to be able to use it.

Vodafone will also use facilities and backhaul capacity from BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) for these trials. Some of the femtos will be located on BT Openreach telephone poles or in payphone boxes.

Why this matters
This is a new twist on femtos for the U.K. market, but it has been part of Vodafone's vision for these small cells for years. The operator has various femto trials and commercial services in nine markets, ranging from residential to enterprise, as well as public areas, such as in shopping malls and Vodafone's own stores.

The U.K. government has pledged £150 million (US$240 million) to extend mobile coverage in the country, so it is possible that some of this funding could be used for projects such as an open femto deployment like the one Vodafone will trial next year. However, Vodafone says it will fund these trials and it is not clear yet how the funds earmarked by the government will be allocated.

For more
Vodafone is the femto industry's biggest supporter and here's a look back at their femto frolics.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

KCDay 12/5/2012 | 4:49:59 PM
re: Vodafone Throws Femtos at UK 'Notspots'

The low costs (both capital and operating) of femtocells make sense for rural coverage - it's a win-win for customers and operators.  This UK rollout follows a major deployment in Japan by softBank. They've gone one step further - in areas with no fixed broeadband, the public femtos use satellite for backhaul:


Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:49:59 PM
re: Vodafone Throws Femtos at UK 'Notspots'

Are femtos good for for data as well as voice services in rural areas? I just wonder if backhaul would put the brakes on femtos to provide high-speed broadband in rural areas. 

Interesting that Softbank used satellite. 

mobileinsider 12/5/2012 | 4:49:55 PM
re: Vodafone Throws Femtos at UK 'Notspots'

This makes good sense. Toss in WiFi (integrate) and the combo will provide good voice and data coverage using all avilable spectrum.

Todd Mersch 12/5/2012 | 4:49:33 PM
re: Vodafone Throws Femtos at UK 'Notspots'


Femtos are growing up and leaving home.

They’re a good solution for achieving low cost coverage in sparsely populated rural areas, and this has already been proven in Japan. It’s exciting to see Vodafone now exploiting femto technology for rural coverage in UK. Perhaps Vodafone’s rural deployment use case might prompt the industry to adopt another term for these: ‘Ruracells’.

While femtocells were initially (and still are) targeted for residential deployments, as with all new technologies the street finds new innovative uses for compelling solutions.  The fundamental value proposition of Femtocells - a low cost base station that is easy to deploy - makes its use in rural environments compelling and economically attractive for operators.

And for those reasons we expect to continue to see more uses of femtocell technologies, beyond residential and enterprise, and beyond rural. New markets will adopt this versatile solution - public safety, disaster recovery and military/defense are all good markets for small cells.

The key is this - TEMs/NEPs can adopt small cells or be on the sidelines, wait and watch, only to see small cells eat their macro lunch. Operators are already speaking with their spending decisions.


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