Tech News and Opinions (by Paul Spain)

Vodafone NZ launches mobile cell sites (FemtoCells)

, posted: 20-Jan-2011 18:42

A technology which has been offered in many other places around the world has finally been launched in NZ. Femto Cells are available immediately from Vodafone NZ and allow those in homes or regions lacking in cellular coverage to link a mini cellular base station to their Internet connection.

Femto Cells are being priced at $349 for a basic unit (supports up to 4 cell phones) and $1033.85 for an 'Enterprise' option which supports up to 8 mobiles. The units are being marketed by under the 'Sure Signal' branding by Vodafone. Users will need to have a fixed line ADSL Internet connection from Vodafone to use the service. A 14-day money back gaurantee is also offered.

As an 'introductory offer' Vodafone NZ are also offering a free 'Broadband Complete' Modem/Router to users who do not have one already. These are a very flexible modem/router that support the latest Wi-Fi standards (B/G/N).

Some carriers internationally offer specially benefits for those using a femto cell. AT&T for instance offer free calling when connected to the femtocell (or microcell as they call it).

I will report back on the results of testing the Femto Cell once I have one in my hands (am awaiting delivery). Follow me on Twitter for updates: @paulspain

More info and ordering at the Vodafone NZ website.

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Comment by Regs, on 20-Jan-2011 19:31

i just wish they'd fix their poor coverage. punters should switch telco rather than buy one of these to fix the 'issues'

Comment by johnr, on 20-Jan-2011 19:46

Regs what a pointless statement not thought about at all. The 2 national carriers have equal coverage (they are not mirror imaged) improving coverage sometimes is not easy. Either cause of terrain or the protesters? The femtocell will provide coverage for customers that get low/no coverage but can get fixed line Broadband.

Comment by Regs, on 20-Jan-2011 20:21

john, i've got virtually no coverage at either my home (in mt eden) or my office (greenlane) with vodafone 3g.  repeated complaints have gone nowhere.  both telecom and 2degrees have great and good coverage in both places.  i was told these femtocells were coming two years ago, now they are *finally* here. it looks like they're restricted to vodafone broadband customers only though.  when i suggested we should be given one for the office for free if we were to stay with voda, i was told 'not liklely'.  therefore i'm not even considering voda for our office mobiles in the future.

(btw, the coverage is jsut as poor on nokia, iphone, htc and palm devices - so its not an end user issue)

Comment by harrylin, on 20-Jan-2011 21:44

why do we need a femtocell if we dont have a 3g signal? we can just use that voda 2g signal to make calls...
why do we need a femtocell if we dont have a 3g signal to browse the internet?  we can just use the fixed line broadband to surf the net...
i still dont understand why we need a femtocell

Comment by bbman, on 20-Jan-2011 23:11

My questioin would be is there potential for the sure signal to operate over Vodafone Mobile broadband (sounds weird I know) but for a rural no adsl customer. If you have the right kit (VoloAccess VA125) & if Vodafone would launch HSPA+, upload and download with a twin YAGI configuration would enable this to work at a site outside of the ADSL coverage zone (most of rural NZ).

If not, we will keep on selling XLINK's with a Passive YAGI setup..

Comment by Julius, on 21-Jan-2011 08:44

Is it possible to get a repeater rather than a mobile to Internet device? We have a house which has signal in one place but not in the rest.

Comment by Kristinahunt, on 21-Jan-2011 09:28

@Harrylin I just about choaked and spat out what I was eating when I read your above comment! This device would greatly improve 3G coverage inside your house in Rangiora. I am amazed you have written such a comment after the many times you have complained on Geekzone about next to no 3G coverage at home from Vodafone NZ. You have harped on like a stuck record about the coverage inside your house and how you have to put the MIFI unit up high to get the slightest bit of 3G coverage. I encourage people reading this to review Harrylin's posts on Geekzone and then come back and comment about what Harrylin has posted above.

Comment by freitasm, on 21-Jan-2011 10:32

I'm with Regs here. Femtocells are really cool and all, but users should move telcos if they want a mobile phone and don't have coverage...

In a simplistic view it's a case of "I will give some of my broadband cap to provide coverage to my telco, and still have to pay for that broadband traffic, so it sounds like double dip".

I know it's simplistic, but seeing you are tied to the specific telco offering the femtocell (you can't use it with any other ISP) then I'd just look at moving mobile service providers.

Comment by freitasm, on 21-Jan-2011 10:48

@Kristinahunt good luck trying to get Harry to admit he's a bit over the top sometimes ;)

Comment by johnr, on 21-Jan-2011 11:02

And if no Cellco provides coverage where you would like 3G coverage?

Comment by oxnsox, on 21-Jan-2011 12:16

I'm surprised by commets by both freitasm and regs....

You guys really do need to get out more. Go visit people who work (or live) in blackspots, don't just accept they exist... go and see why they're there. (topography, building materials, location of workspaces etc )
I may live in a Voda blackspot but work in a Telecom one, so who should I select as a telco???

Heres a telco thats offering a solution and all you learned folk can say is 'I want to use it differently'. When all telcos offer their own solutions will that still be the case or will you still be wanting to put a TCNZ product on a competitors network.  I'd think it's called business.....
Would you ask Air NZ to supply you with Qantas services on ANZ flights because you like what they're offering but don't want to switch airlines???

Comment by Regs, on 21-Jan-2011 19:52


my coverage blackspots are in places i normally wouldnt expect them in - in the central suburbs of our largest city, flat terrain and surrounded by aerials from all telcos.  the fact is that out of three telco's, i only have issues with one.

i barely put up with the issues at home - they were weak at best, but when we shifted office we got stuck with the signals there that were poor to non existant.  At the time we moved, it was going to cost us > $500 per connection to terminate and move to another telco.  actually, it was worse than that becuase a move to XT or CDMA would have meant new devices for everyone too.  Now that our contracts are ending and we are free to choose again, we are basically ruling out vodafone due to the coverage issues.  If the femtocells were provided free-of-charge, and could be used with non-vodafone broadband (we have fibre internet connectivity with another isp) then we may have put voda back on the table, but we were told "no" and "no" to that.

i still stand by my statement that both of these locations should be easy to provide coverage to and neither should really be a blackspot though.  Interestingly enough, i can get 5 bars of signal if i walk a short distance from each location.

i do believe that femotcells are a great potential solution to a valid problem (assuming you also buy voda broadband), i just think that my problems shouldnt exist in the first place and that femtocells are a band aid

Comment by oxnsox, on 21-Jan-2011 22:08

@ RegsI don't deny you the reality of your observations as they do, in fact, validate the point that all Telcos can't offer coverage everywhere. As I'm sure you are also aware there will be blackspots on other networks. Indeed your comment suggests that somehwere nearby (perhaps on the otherside of the ridge?) the VF coverage will be OK and others may wither.So whilst I understand why you may want a Telco to provide a free femtocell to solve your unique problem, again I susggest you have a choice. If I walk out the door to the bus stop, it should be easy to catch a bus to where I want to go.... many other people do it so the system clearly works. But not for me as it means I'd have to change buses. So do I take the buses and moan that their network is inconsistant, or do I shun them completely and walk, or ride in my free roaming car (that I can't park close to where I want to go and is costly to use in this manner). Perhaps I shouldn't have bought the car if I'm not going to use it... or maybe I could trade it on a motorbike that gives me better options.... or simply keep walking when I want and riding the buses when I will. Is it likely that other Telcos will offer Femtocell options?Do you think they'll want to lock you to their ISP?Or is it possible that if and when they do, and in the spirit of competition, VF may change the connection options it currently offers?I don't expect anyone to know (or share) those answers.... thats Business.

Comment by Jimmy McBride, on 22-Jan-2011 14:51

@ Regs

What area do you live & work in, where the Vodafone Coverage is not so good?

Have you contacted Vodafone & logged a coverage Ticket with them? If not - why not??

I think asking Vodafone for a free device is a bit on the nose, imagine if everyone in poor coverage areas done the same thing - & Vodafone obliged, that is not a good business practice, they would lose money hand over fist!

There are many factors that affect mobile coverage & you should know that. No Telco provides coverage everywhere you want it & Vodafone, like it's competitors, are adding new & improved coverage all the time.

Comment by ajw, on 23-Jan-2011 12:53

I note on the AT&T network in the States they are giving them away to some customers who do not have coverage.

Comment by Teeps, on 24-Jan-2011 10:23

Why do we even need Femtocells when we have wifi on our handsets? Why can't calls be routed via wifi when you're connected to a wifi network?

I understand handsets need the ability to do this but it makes much more sense for this to be on the handset side so it can be used on any wifi network rather than needing a femtocell that you can only join either four or eight handsets!

Femtocells seem so 10 years ago and a good option for dumb handsets but I'd much rather see development to using wifi instead.

I'm sure it comes down to financial return at the end of the day, after all how would networks be able to charge extortionate roaming rates if you were able to use wifi abroad!

Comment by oxnsox, on 24-Jan-2011 11:21

Agree Teeps, it's about revenue. But I do see the product providing a service in dark corners where signals can't get.

But I can also think of a couple of cafes in holiday spots who may be able to gain business over their competitors simply because you can use your phone (and your bandwidth) whilst you eat one of their muffins (now thats soo 10yrs ago). If only they could access the right backhaul service.

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