Vodaphone Introduces Femtocells In The UK

vodafone_femtocell-200x300Femtocells have been a topic of considerable discussion over the past year or so. Femtocells are small devices that act like a tiny cellular base in your home or office. To your cell phone it’s just another tower. However, instead of interfacing to the carriers back-end network it backhauls the calls over your local broadband connection. Some have noted that this is ideal for the carrier since they don’t actually incur the cost of that backhaul segment. As the person paying for the broadband connection, you do.

Vodaphone appears to be the first cellular carrier in the UK to actually introduce the little beasties. Andrew Grill’s “London Calling” blog has an excellent description of them based on his early first-hand experience. His tale includes both acquiring and installing the device.  That he is able to extend cellular coverage into the basement flat (apartment) of a Victorian era home seems especially useful.

Every major carrier has announced some kind of plan to introduce Femtocells some time soon. While there certainly are benefits to the technology the rollout seems to be a certain amount of competitive “me too-ism.”

Femtocells are something of a contrast from the T-Mobile offering called T-Mobile @ Home. That service is based on using Wifi when at your location, thus it requires dual mode cell phones that can make calls over GSM or Wifi. In fact, you can even start a call on one network then transition to the other as you enter/depart the area served by your T-Mobile Wifi AP.

The reliance upon dual mode phones limits the handsets available for use with T-Mobile @ Home. This is why we’d never go for it around here, although my brother-in-law has had it for some time. He reports that they are saving money by (1) not using cellular air-time minutes while around the house, even though they make all their calls using their cell phones, and (2) not having a land-line any longer.

Both approaches to cellular service place additional burden on the end user. Not only do you need to provide the broadband connection, but you should also consider the use of a UPS to ensure that your phone service is sustained during a power outage. You’ll need to keep your entire core network running. That might include;

  • Cable modem/DSL modem
  • Router
  • Switch
  • Wifi access point or femtocell

None of this should be news for anyone operating a home office. But residential users are accustomed to the phone service “just working” during a power outage. That’s certainly not going to happen with any kind of VoIP.

  • Chuck W

    I’ve been using the SprintPCS femtocel offering here in the US for about 9 months. Things started out a bit rocky, with some inbound calls being misrouted, and strength of signal leaving much to be desired, but in the last 4 months-or-so they seem to have rolled out firmware and made network improvements that have resolved most of the problems. The only lingering issue, that doesn’t appear to have a fix, is the dropping of an active call when going from an active cell tower to femtocel coverage. The Sprint pricing plans also leave something to be desired, but they have waved all of the miscellaneous fees for a year in my case. It’s a pretty good option if you are in a spotty coverage area, or want to drop your land line.

  • My land lines, all 4 of them, are long gone…since 2005. My inverse DIY femtocell is a GSM gateway. Lets me route calls via T-Mobile should my IP connection go down.