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Femtocell World Summit Vodafone surprised delegates at today's Femtocell Summit by announcing that from the first of July, UK customers will be able to buy their own Femtocell, thereby extending Vodafone's network through their own broadband connection.

Femtocells are tiny base stations, GSM in this case, which connect to a broadband connection and route calls and data sessions back to the operator. This bypasses the operator's backhaul network and provides 3G coverage in buildings.

Despite this, such functionality does not come free - customers will have to shell out £160 for the Vodafone Access Gateway. It will also be provided as part of a £15 tariff, rising to £30 if you want an HTC Magic handset. Once purchased, the Femtocell just plugs into the mains, with an Ethernet connection to the internet, and this extends the Vodafone network into your home.

For Vodafone, that means hugely reduced carriage costs, as the traffic is carried on the network you're already paying for. The punter sees better 3G coverage. Some operators have talked about cheaper calls, or greater services, but the Vodafone offering is just about providing coverage by piggybacking on your existing broadband connection.

Vodafone told us they've been running trials for the last six months, and haven't seen any degradation of voice quality, even when the internet connection is in heavy use. That's despite the fact that their Femtocell makes no special arrangements with your router to prioritise traffic. It will be interesting to see if that remains true when rolled out to real customers.

This is very much the first step for Femtocells. The only deployments to date have been in the USA, and they only provide 2G connectivity, so much of the business model remains to be established. But Vodafone's announcement marks the start of wide scale deployments that could see a base station in every home with remarkable speed. ®

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