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Orange is to charge customers for extending network coverage into buildings with limited or no coverage, while still billing them for calls carried over their own broadband connection, according to the firm's picocell strategy, announced today.

Pico (or femto) cells offer the opportunity for license-holders to deploy tiny GSM cells. Connected to ADSL lines they can provide low-cost connectivity for any GSM mobile, converting a mobile call to VoIP while taking load off the operator's network.

O2 is trialling femtocells in customers' homes to provide free in-home voice calls and delivery of 3G services such as streaming video and online gaming, without relying on network coverage.

Qualcomm reckons femtocells are the ideal home network, for streaming video around the house and as a direct competitor to home Wi-Fi.

But Orange wants to see companies who have trouble getting coverage in basements or back offices paying to have a picocell fitted and connected to their broadband to provide the coverage they need.

The firm is keen to emphasise that this will be part of a communications deal and the price will be negotiable.

It also doesn't preclude Orange doing all those other exciting things tiny cells make possible, but it does show how Orange is positioning the technology and where it sees the revenue potential. ®

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