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Vodafone Launches Femtocells for Consumers and Small Businesses in New Zealand

Vodafone New Zealand has begun selling miniature cellsites the size of a broadband router that customers can use to provide or boost mobile coverage, but their high introductory price means they are initially likely to be a niche product.

The devices, called femtocells, are being marketed under the brand “Sure Signal” and route calls and mobile broadband back to Vodafone‘s network over customers’ fixed-line broadband connections.

Vodafone is selling the devices in two versions – a $349 unit for consumers, designed to provide cellphone coverage within up to a 20 metre radius, and a more powerful unit costing $1034 that has a range of up to 40m and is aimed at small businesses.

The coverage range is reduced by solid barriers such as concrete, metal and masonry, but signals are not greatly impeded by wood and gib board commonly used to partition New Zealand homes.

Vodafone has sold Sure Signal in Britain for 1 1/2 years.

IDC European research director John Delaney told The Dominion Post in December that sales picked up after Vodafone dropped the price of its basic unit from 160 to 50.

Vodafone spokesman Matt East said the higher price here reflected the investment Vodafone had had to make in adapting its network to support the service in the smaller New Zealand market. He could not comment on the prospect of future price cuts.

There has been speculation Sure Signal could help Vodafone make a fresh push into the market otherwise accounted for by Telecom phone line rentals, because it would make it more practical for Vodafone to offer customers free local calls when they were using mobiles in or close to their homes, without overburdening its cellphone towers.

Customers need to have a fixed-line broadband connection supplied by Vodafone. From mid-February, Vodafone will ensure mobile traffic routed through their broadband connection would not count towards their monthly data caps, Mr East said.

Until then, the company would offer customers a credit if that proved an issue.

Unlike in Britain, Vodafone has configured its New Zealand femtocells so that any Vodafone 3G mobile can use them – not just mobiles nominated by the customer.

That means people living next door to someone with a femtocell could also benefit from the improved coverage, with their calls routed over their neighbours’ broadband connection.

Mr East said that unlike people tapping into neighbours’ wi-fi connections, that posed no security issues.

“If there is a bit of `leakage’ and neighbours get better coverage, then that is a good thing.”

Source: Stuff

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