European operators have been left in Vodafone's wake following the surprise announcement that the company will launch a commercial femtocell service in Europe as early as 1 July.
This move, which follows numerous femtocell trials by Vodafone, is a significant boost for the technology which was in danger of stagnation as operators repeatedly delayed commercial deployments. However, the company has stolen the initiative from other operators, such as O2 and T-Mobile, that had seemed to be making the most progress with femtocell trials and commercial pilots.
Interestingly, Vodafone plans to offer no femto-specific applications, with the intent being simply to improve indoor coverage at this stage. Also of note is the selection of Alcatel-Lucent as the femtocell supplier, one of the more prominent Tier 1 wireless vendors to offer its own devices rather than badging those of a specialist supplier, which will boost the hopes of the silicon developer picoChip, which also supplies the chipset for ip.access and others femtocell vendors. Vodafone has used equipment from several femtocell vendors for trials
Labelled the Vodafone Access Gateway, the femtocell will be available in stores and online from 1 July. The router-sized box plugs into the broadband line to create a homezone, and can can be used by up to four standard handsets or other 3G devices at one time. The Gateway is available for free, depending on the subscribers data plan, with options from £15 ($24) a month. It can also be purchased upfront, with no commitment, for £160, or on a monthly charge from £5.
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