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Vodafone sells indoor coverage with UK femto launch

24 июня 2009

Vodafone will launch its first femtocell service in the U.K. on 1 July. The offering, which will also be Europe's first commercial femtocell rollout, is being pitched by the mobile operator as a way for U.K. consumers to improve mobile network coverage in their homes.

There has been much debate in recent months and years over whether consumers - particularly in Europe, where in-building coverage is less problematic than in the U.S., for example – would be willing to pay for better indoor coverage.

Many believed that mobile operators would wave the carrot of lower cost calls, so-called home zone tariffs facilitated by the femtocell, and in-home data bundles in order to persuade customers to pay for a home base station. Similarly there was much talk of "attractive new services" to draw in the punters.

But Vodafone is taking the plunge and asking would-be customers to pay for better network quality, describing its Vodafone Access Gateway, as the device will be known, as "a small plug-in box that will significantly improve customers' mobile phone signal in their homes."

The Vodafone Access Gateway is available at a fixed fee of £160, or to lease from £5 per month. Vodafone is also bundling the femtocell in with various tariff plans, starting from £15 per month.

"Vodafone is pitching the initial price high to skim those subscribers desperate for better in-building coverage, and will then introduce more affordable mass-market offerings targeted at encouraging subscribers to offload their in-home traffic onto DSL [at a later date]," said Analysys Mason principal analyst Matt Hatton on Tuesday.

Hatton added that the focus of future mass-market, i.e. cheaper, femto offerings will likely be on data, rather than on voice, since mobile networks "are comfortably able to cope with any amount of voice traffic, will eventually be swamped by data traffic."

Operators have been slow – or at least slower than early femtocell hype suggested – to roll out commercial femtocell offerings, despite the fact that the technology enables them to reach into customers' homes without the expense of investing in their macro networks.

But while femtocells appear to be a no-brainer for the operators, it remains to be seen whether consumers will be convinced.

"Femtocells have a number of advantages over dual-mode [WiFi/GSM] services, such as Orange's Unik offer in France, not least the compatibility with a wide range of handsets," said Hatton.

"I'm sceptical about the level of demand in Europe though, where in-building coverage tends to be good and there are a number of alternative ways for MNOs to head off a threat from cheap home calls; for example, through location based discounting such as seen with O2's Genion or simply by offering large bundles of cheap off-peak minutes," he added.

"There's a small group of users who will definitely benefit from better in-building coverage, but the opportunity is modest. The wider consumer market will be a tougher nut to crack," Hatton predicted.

Источник: Total Telecom

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