Vodafone group are one the largest global operators, and their recent strategy has included investing heavily in 3G coverage in developed markets. They have been amongst the first to deploy HSPA, which offers higher data rates which increase with each new release. Their data tariff plans are not the cheapest, but are used by many businesses. They were also the first European network to launch a femtocell commercial service in July 2009, which was rebranded and relaunched as Vodafone Sure Signal in January 2010.
Small Cell History at Vodafone
The company had been researching and evaluating femtocells from the beginning, issuing one of the first RFQ to vendors in June 2007, and early trials were being carried out in Spain using Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei equipment during 2008.
This global player launched their first commercial service in the UK in 2009 (initially called Vodafone Access Gateway), which was later rebranded and relaunched in January 2010 using the name SureSignal. Femtocell service was then launched in over 10 other subsiduaries around the globe and has also been used for residential, enterprise and metro-femto applications in many countries.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress 2014, Miguel Marin, Vodafone’s access director, stated the group had deployed over 300,000 small cells to date.
Vodafone UK SureSignal
Announced commercial availability of femtocells in their UK network from 1st July 2009, with a product named "Vodafone Access Gateway". This used the Alcatel-Lucent femtocell solution (with access point provided by Sagem, based on a picoChip chipset). Access is controlled through a white list of up to 30 permitted users, which could only be updated on request by calling customer care. Pricing was either a one-off £160 or £5/month. The product launch also featured on the BBC news and you can read how I got on with buying, installing and making my first call on the Vodafone Access Gateway.
In January 2010, Vodafone relaunched and renamed the product Vodafone Sure Signal, using the same hardware and systems. The issue of updating customer "white lists" of permitted users was resolved by introducing an online self-service webpage, with updates actioned almost immediately. A more extensive nationwide marketing campaign was conducted including promotions on billboards, radio and press - such as the billboard below.
The price was reduced to £50, with some high spending subscribers reporting that they had received one free of charge. The article reports a survey which identified that 18% of mobile users regularly find themselves outside coverage when at work or at home.
A billboard advert is shown above.
Since then, it is claimed that Vodafone has shipped and installed more femtocells than its own outdoor basestations.
The same Alcatel-Lucent solution was launched in Czech Republic under the name Private 3G Zone, with a retail price of around $170.
Vodafone Ireland is the largest network operator in Eire, with around 40% market share. The country has four mobile network operators - the others being O2, Meteor and 3.
They followed the same path as Vodafone UK, launching a commercial femtocell service in January 2011 also branded as Sure Signal and based on the Alcatel-Lucent solution.
An pre-launch review can be found at silicon republic, highlighting some of the issues around registration for additional users.
The price was set at 99 Euros (approx US$100) with no ongoing fees. Customers who also have Vodafone DSL broadband can buy the product for 49 Euros.
The solution has been withdrawn from sale to new customers but existing customer can continue to use the service.
Vodafone Greece are a subsiduary of the Vodafone Group, with over 5 million subscriptions. They are the second largest mobile network in the country, competing with Cosmote and WIND.
They launched a femtocell service in July 2010 using the Full Sima brand name (meaning Full Signal) for residential customers priced at 150 Euros. Higher value subscribers may be able to get this free or with substantial discount. There are no ongoing fees or discounted rates when using it.
Unlike other Vodafone subsiduaries, the femtocell solution was supplied by Huawei. The box supports up to 4 active calls simultaneously and can track up to 32 users on standby.
The same Alcatel-Lucent solution was launched in Hungary under the name Mini Bazis, priced at around $160.
Vodafone Italia is Italy's second largest mobile network provider (after TIM) with over 30 million subscribers. Originally launched by Olivetti as Omnitel, Vodafone acquired it when they took over Mannesman Germany, rebranding the business to Vodafone Italia and adding fixed line services in 2010 after buying Tele2.
It launched two sizes of femtocell product in April 2011:
- a smaller one priced at 169 euros for residential and SOHO use. This can handle 4 concurrent active calls or data sessions, covering a range of 90 square meters.
- a larger model priced at 549 euros for business users, which can handle 8 concurrent active calls/data sessions and cover up to 500 square meters.
Choosing not to use the same "Sure Signal" branding of other Vodafone affiliates, the product is sold in shops under the name "Booster".
The same business model is followed as used elsewhere in the group.
There are no different call or data charges for using the femtocell.
The one-off purchase price can be spread over 24 months, reducing the cost to as little as 5 euros a month.
The solution is provided by Alcatel-Lucent, who also supply many other Vodafone affiliates.
The operator launched a residential and small business femtocell service under the name SignaalPlus, retailing at 85 Euros.
A Huawei femtocell gateway is connected to Sagemcom "femto plug" small cells, running Sagemcom's own software.
Deployment and operational management was outsourced to a local company, RadioAccess BV, who have developed their own performance management, reporting and operational software tools.
Vodafone New Zealand
Vodafone New Zealand is the largest mobile phone operator in the country with around 2.5 million subscribers. Their competitors are Telecom New Zealand (just over 2 million) and 2degrees (around 0.5 million).
They followed several of the other Vodafone Group companies, introducing commercial femtocell service in January 2011, again using the Sure Signal brand name found elsewhere. Also common with other Vodafone subsiduaries, the end-to-end femtocell system was supplied by Alcatel-Lucent, with the femtocell hardware provided by Sagem.
A local review of the Vodafone NZ Sure Signal service is posted on Geekzone
There are a couple of significant differences from the commerical offer in other Vodafone countries:
- All femtocells are configured for open access. This means there is no need to register specific phones/users before they can make or receive calls on the device.
- Vodafone DSL broadband is mandatory. However, because they provide this, the data that the femtocell uses is not counted towards the monthly DSL broadband usage.
These two differences work together because open access won't cost the customer any more, but provides much simpler and easier access for all Vodafone mobile phone users.
It is understood that enterprise and outdoor femtocells are also being used by the operator, also supplied by Alcatel-Lucent.
More information and ordering can be found on the Vodafone NZ website
The residential femtocell services was launched under the brand name Sinal Max, also supplied by Alcatel-Lucent.
Retail price was initially 149 Euros. Nice and simple installation video can be found on YouTube here.
Vodafone Spain launched a femtocell service targetted at their 25,000 existing business customers, especially small to medium businesses. Earlier trials had been announced with Huawei, who provide the complete end-to-end solution. The system incorporates three patented innovations from Vodafone's own R&D team in Spain.
The service is marketed under the brand name Voz y Datos Premium Oficina (Premium Access for Voice and Data) as part of their Vodafone Office portfolio. The service costs 15 Euros per month.
Small femtocells are used, supporting up to 4 concurrent active voice calls. Vodafone's own ADSL broadband service is mandatory.