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Vodafone has already confirmed it will release a femtocell in New Zealand. Now Telecom is set to trial the technology, too. If you’ve no qualms about having a mini cell site within your home, a whole word of better, cheaper 3G services awaits.
On Monday, a team from Alcatel Lucent will arrive in Auckland to demonstrate its femtocell technology for both Telecom and Vodafone.
As NBR revealed on June 30, Vodafone already has plans to commercially release a femtocell in New Zealand. No date has been set, but in the UK the carrier already has this radical new product on the market.
Now, a rep for Alcatel Lucent says Telecom is examining the technology too. Alcatel Lucent is well-placed. The Franco-American company is both the maker of the femtocell that Vodafone UK introduced, pioneeringly, on July 1, and Telecom NZ’s incumbent telecommunications hardware provider.
Although its name implies a clutch of super-model terrorists, a femtocell is, in essence, a mini cell site.
The femtocell sold by Vodafone UK beams a 3G signal around your house (using the same W-CDMA 3G radio technology employed by a transmitter on a grown-up cell tower), supporting up to four 3G cellphones - or other 3G devices - at once.
The femtocell then uses your DSL landline connection to transfer your cellphone calls to the nearest Vodafone base station, from where they travel over the carrier’s cellular network as usual.
The advantages: better calling clarity, and faster data, for those living in an area poorly serviced by the regular cellphone network.
The UK femtocell - called the Vodafone Access Gateway - costs 160 pounds ($NZ386) to buy outright, or arrive free with mobile plans costing from 15 pounds ($NZ36) a month. Interestingly, since we last checked in on June 30, the carrier has refashioned its message; the Gateway is now being pushed as a "signal booster".
Installation is, apparently, plug and play.
(Disappointingly, a femtocell - see Vodafone UK’s above - is nothing to look at, simply being a box that could pass for a DSL modem.)
Give that Vodafone NZ has a Commerce Commission-engineered local zone pricing deal with Telecom, which allows Vodafone mobiles to be used at a local calling rate when inside a home zone, a femtocell raises intriguing possibilities for those looking to ditch their voice land line. So far, Vodafone has made little noise about its local zone offering.
And because a femtocell interacts directly with your DSL connection, it’s also inherently VoIP friendly. Vodafone NZ has, in the past, demo’d for Vodafone-branded VoIP software for NBR - although there is no suggestion that such a service would be bundled with the carrier’s initial femtocell roll-out here.
Alcatel Lucent is also pitching services like home media sharing, and one family phone number shared among several mobiles.
My thinking was that when it arrives here, Vodafone's femtocell will definitely help the carrier's war on XT. My tests, so far, have found Telecom's new 3G network faster in more places - as the increasingly annoying Hamster pronnounces - than Vodafone 3G. Femtocells should put Vodafone back in front. Now, it looks like we'll maybe see a Telecom femtocell too, nullifying the advantage.