Femtocell Operator News and Opinons

Vodafone really are ready to launch their Vodafone Access Gateway Femtocell

Vodafone had kept the launch date of their new femtocell service under wraps until last week, genuinely surprising the industry by bringing it forward to July 1st. I did my "mystery shopper" act on Saturday to find out if Vodafone sales outlets really are ready for the launch next Wednesday.

Like most high streets in the UK, we have many sales outlets for mobile phone providers. The mainstream network operators each have their own retail stores - Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, 3 and Orange all have stores in my city of 100,000 population. Additionally, there are several reseller outlets which offer services from these networks including Carphone Warehouse (also one of the largest fixed line DSL providers in the UK) and Phones4u.

My local Vodafone store was well aware of the new product

When I asked in the Vodafone shop using the specific name "Vodafone Access Gateway", the staff were fully briefed and aware of the new product. They were aware of the launch date of 1st July and so couldn't give me any brochure as yet.

Initially a representative told me that I needed to have Vodafone's broadband DSL service, but he was quickly corrected by a colleague. Any DSL line from any supplier can be used (provided it has good enough speed/quality). This compares favourably with Orange's dual mode WiFi service (the only competing solution allowing use of a mobile phone at home with poor coverage) - they mandate you must use their DSL service.

Staff explained there are three ways for me to get hold of the new product, on or after 1st July.

a) Order one in the store, which would be available for collection a few days later
b) Order one online, delivered by post
c) Order one through their call centre, again delivered by post

So Vodafone's product manager for the Access Gateway was quite accurate in saying that they have trained the sales and customer care teams ready for the new product release. Full marks all round.

Update: Follow events in the subsequent weeks when I asked if Vodafone had rushed their femtocell launch and documented my experience installing the Vodafone Access Gateway and making my first femtocell call

Unlocking phones so you can switch networks is quite a different experience altogether

Unlocking my prepaid T-Mobile phone so it could be used on Vodafone was quite another thing altogether. Although my phone was out of contract and switched to a prepaid tariff, it took 52 minutes on the phone with a customer care representative to figure out how to do this. To cut a very long story short, after charging me around £15, an unlock code will be sent my post within 28 days. It can't be done over the phone, and they even had to call me back so I could manually enter the IMEI code (by calling *#06#).

The unlock code will allow the phone to accept a SIM card from any network - I've bought one from Vodafone for £5 which is ready to go. Whilst this was of unlocking is both cheaper and more ethical than some of the more dubious unlock services offered on the internet, it was a really painful and ludicrously lengthy experience to have to go through.This kind of service should be feasible to do on demand over the network, but I guess there is little incentive for operators to invest in systems which encourage churn and reduce their revenues.The net effect is that I now have a less favourable impression of T-Mobile who have served me well for my personal phone over the last two years, and will take this into account when I next buy a phone.

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