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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Voda UK femtocells in the real world

Hats off to Andrew Grill for his write-up of getting hold of one of the new Vodafone femtocells to use in his flat in London.

Bottom line is - it does what is says "on the tin", but there are a few teething difficulties in actually buying and installing it. The issues with training retail store staff are not insubstantial, especially with niche or unusual products.

I remember having much the same problem trying to buy a 3UK dongle when they first came out, with the guys in the local store completely unused to dealing with business-account customers - and not having any easy way to enter me on their computer system.

One interesting question would be to find out what is limiting the HSDPA to just 1.2Mbit/s. Is it the dongle, the femto, the broadband gateway or connection, something in the fixed broadband network, the femto gateway or something in the Vodafone transport domain? Either way, it's a good thing it does get some reasonable speed, because otherwise I can imagine customer service having a nightmare trying to find the bottleneck.


Andrew Grill said...

Dean, the 1.2Mb/s limit is actually a limitation of my Sony Vaio embedded HSDPA card - the fastest it has ever run is 1.2MB/s outdoors and I got 1.4MB/s next to the femto - so it doesn't seem speed limited - my laptop is the bottleneck.

Anonymous said...

I'm still unconvinced by femtocells. Why would I use it at home for data in preference to my home wifi (which pretty uch all modern laptops come with as standard)? And if thats the case and its only for improved voice quality, I dont see the economics of it working out?

I dont want to pay for something that I can do with other equipment already within reach at home. I also would want to avoid using things that use up my ISP data quotas. So then are the operators going to get into the ISP business to avoid this becoming an issue?

Then will they give away the boxes "free" as part of a 12 month package like other ISPs and wireless routers?

Why do I need one? And if I dont need one, I dont see the aethereal "must have" reason providing a nagging pull to make me want one.

I might be interested if they were available like BT FON where I donate access to my femto if I can use others femtos while I'm out and about, or if I can get money off by allowing it to be used in such a fashion?

To me, so far, this is a technology waiting for a problem to solve to give it a reason to exist. Rather than as a solution to an existing problem?

David said...

I heard from the SAGEM product manager (who manufacture this device for Alcatel Lucent) that this particular femtocell model can operate at speeds of up to 6Mbit/s download and 1Mbit/s uplink. Later models have higher data rates. Limiting factors are more likely to be mobile device (e.g. today's prepaid USB dongles from Vodafone are 3Mbit/s max) and wireline broadband link speed.

Currently all Vodafone femtocells operate using a "white list" and so only those pre-registered mobiles/handsets can use the box.

This initial offer is primarily focussed on domestic customers, especially high revenue/value ones, who want better coverage for voice at home. Poor coverage remains one of the main reasons for churn in today's networks and it's not cost effective to provide 100% coverage via the macro network.

Kedar said...

When I was working at 3, we did interesting tests with multiple femto cells in adjacent flats.

Due to radio interference between adjacent femto cells, there is an are of no coverage in either flat. So if you happen to sit on that area with your laptop or phone, you won't have any coverage or very poor coverage, leading to bad customer experience.

Also, QoS is an issue when operator like Vodafone doesn't control the ISP.

The backhaul is always the limited factor for user throughout. It is an issue with HSDPA networks for all operators as backhaul is expensive, specially leased circuits.

I also believe that the business case for Femto is good for indoor coverage for SMEs or providing coverage in homes outside the 95% population coverage area. This is where economics makes sense for Femtos.