Voice calls and data sessions were smooth and handoff to the macro network worked perfectly – calls and data sessions transferred seamlessly. The return journey was more bumpy; we never had a call transfer to the femtocell despite becoming seriously degraded, and even cut off, though the handset did pick up the femtocell quickly once the call was over, but we expected a smooth handoff.
Detective work: 3G signal, but is it true or make-believe?
Vodafone recommends a minimum of 1Mb/sec broadband for the Access Gateway, and provides a web site where one can test one's connection to see if it has the requisite speed. If you have that sort of bandwidth then things should work perfectly, but the Gateway has no priority of traffic across the Internet, so it's best-effort only. We throttled the bandwidth down to about a quarter of the recommendation and still had a perfectly usable service, which only choked when we started some streaming video over the same connection.
Calls using the cell will count towards your broadband fair-use limit, though you would have to make an awful lot of voice calls for that to become an issue, more likely you'll hit Vodafone's limit when using the 3G dongle built into your laptop, and it will be interesting to see if Vodafone really gets heavy with customers overusing their own broadband connection.
Handset battery life wasn't effected greatly, we had hoped to seen an improvement as the handsets wouldn't have to reach out to distant cells, but the constant use of 3G seems to negate that. On the other hand, our Samsung Omnia decided one day to conserve power by shutting down its 3G radio and was thus unable to get a connection despite being right beside the 3G-only femtocell.
So if you want Vodafone coverage in a dead zone, and have broadband, then the Vodafone Access Gateway is the only option. Still, every single operator in the UK is testing femtocells at the moment, and at least one company is planning a generic service, so while its the only option today that's set to change very soon. Vodafone is also pricing this very high, at £160 or £15 a month, to see if punters will jump at that price [since this was written the price has now dropped to £5 a month]. Wait a year and you'll get a free femtocell, and probably discounted calls, but that would be another 12 months without a usable mobile phone. ®
More Mobile Networking Reviews...
plus WLAN Mobile
HSUPA 3G modem
Wireless Compass 885
HSUPA 3G modem
Wireless Ovation MC950D
Vodafone Access Gateway
...you could just use a WiFi access point and use your mobile to make SIP calls over that, like some of us have been doing for years. Another case of re-inventing the wheel, surely. Of course, if Apple marketed it, everybody would think it's something new and really clever that had never been done before.
Femto's are a key part of future strategy for mobile operators
I've had a Voda femto since July. I consider I'm actually part of a Beta test ( i.e. sort of internal pre release to market test to identify problems and fix them) because there are many outages - once or twice a week. When the system stops working all the lights on the femto say 'I'm working' but you can't make or receive calls - even though you phone shows all the signal bars. So you miss calls and you don't know you're missing them - until you try to make one !
Voda's Gateway was clearly rushed to market - the sign on process when I signed up was all but manual - whatever you entered on the sign up web page was manually taken off by a human and re-entered into a different system as the software that did it automatically was six weeks ago ( that's what they told me when I rang in to report my first problem - I don't bother now
There are many issues to solve both technically and commercially - but I'm convinced that femto's will become a key part of the LTE landscape. I too raised my eyebrows at paying to extend Voda's coverage into my home ( I'm out in the boonies - usable signal only if you put one arm in the air, it's raining and there's an 'R' in the month ! ) but not much in the way of alternatives.
If you think about it the operator is stepping outside their fully controlled and managed network to one where the end to end performance relies on somebody elses internet connection - try running speedtest.net on your broadband at 7pm and see how that all but grinds to a halt and the ping time allows you to make a cup ot tea !
It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out - like many operators mobile telcos would love to have their hub at the centre of your & mine homes.
I guess ofcom will just rollover on this? The networks are effectivly saying "we can't be arsed to provide a complete service, but we wont mention that when we flog you a locked handset on a overpriced tarrif. But if you've got problems with reception pay us some more money and you can fix it yourself. By the way we do a great unlimited 1gb broadband deal..."
This boxes would great if they were network unlocked, then I could see a purpose. Business and public locations (hotels/pubs) could get one and improve everyones cell coverage.