Orange is preparing to offer businesses a way of improving their indoor mobile coverage.
Onsite Coverage is the mobile operator's name for its picocells, which are miniature cellular base stations that can be installed in offices. Orange has been trialling picocells in Switzerland and it intends to launch the devices in the UK, France, Spain, Poland and Switzerland during 2008.
Picocells improve coverage by routing calls through a fixed broadband connection, which makes them useful not only for buildings where indoor penetration is poor, but also offices in remote locations that may not be well served by operators' standard mobile coverage.
Picocells can offer 3G connectivity, but Orange's offering will only work over GSM and GPRS. Each unit will be able to support up to 50 users within a 50m range, according to the operator.
"As mobile adoption in the business market continues to grow, workers who move from location to location — or even those who sit at their desks — need more access to mobile coverage in the hardest-to-reach places," said Philippe Bernard, executive vice president of Orange Business Solutions. "For example, a distribution depot in a rural or mountainous location may need to give staff mobile telephones so they can keep in touch when they are working anywhere on site, or a city-based trading company may need to provide mobile coverage to their basement offices ensuring employees don't miss vital sales calls when away from their desks."
Orange will charge a monthly rental fee for its picocell hardware. Calls made through the technology will be charged at the same rate as those made through the operator's standard network.
Femtocells, a smaller version of picocells, are being developed for home users.