LONDON Vodafone is set to become the first European network operator to offer femtocells commercially to residential users.
The company announced a live service will start on July 1 on the opening day of the Femtocell World Summit taking place in London.
The so called 'Vodafone Access Gateway' mini basestation is understood to be from Alcatel Lucent, with much of the silicon coming from femtocell chip specialist PicoChip Designs (Bath, England).
Alcatel Lucent is, arguably, the most prominent tier one wireless vendor to offer its own devices rather than badging those of a specialist supplier. Meanwhile, picoChip supplies its optimized devices to many other femtocell makers, such as ip.access and Ubiquisys.
"The gateway will boost indoor mobile phone coverage for customers who today, find they need to move around the rooms in their home to get a consistent signal strength," said Ian Shepherd, consumer director, Vodafone UK.
Vodafone has been conducting over the past year a series of trials in various European countries and with different suppliers, as have other major network operators who have yet to take the plunge with a live commercial offering.
Nigel Toon, president and CEO of picoChip, said the announcement was "a landmark for the femtocell community – and for mobile phone users everywhere who are looking for improved indoor network coverage."
"It is gratifying to have our belief in this market validated by Vodafone, one of the prime movers in mobile telephony worldwide", added Toon. "Equipment manufacturers are now convinced that femtocells will be a vital part of tomorrow's networks."
And Mike Roberts, principal analyst for Informa Telecoms & Media, said: "This is huge for the femtocell industry. A launch by a major operator in tough economic times shows they are convinced there is a strong business case for femtocells, initially for providing better voice and data coverage in homes, with more advanced applications and services to come."
The Gateway is available free or as part of an inclusive price plan from £15 ($24) a month. It is also available as a one-off purchase for £160 or a monthly charge from £5.
Also at the conference, U.S. carrier AT&T confirmed plans for a full commercial national launch of femtocells by the end of 2009.
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