O2 starts offering femtocells for business customers in Germany

O2's Signal Boxes aim to provide better 3G reception in buildings for companies.

Not getting enough bars? For O2 customers in Germany with poor 3G reception, the operator has a new fix. The Telefonica-owned company is now offering femtocells in order to boost local mobile coverage by using existing broadband infrastructure.

The devices, which are sold under the name Signal Box by O2, are about the size of a standard wireless router and use DSL to create a local cellular network that can be deployed in places where 3G is normally difficult to get — inside buildings, or in basements and garages, for example. Similar devices have also been used to close coverage gaps in places with traditionally spotty 3G networks, such as in rural parts of the UK .

O2's new Signal Box devices
O2's new Signal Box devices. Image: Telefonica Deutschland

But this convenience comes at a premium: the lowest-cost Signal Box, which can only manage four calls at a time and has a range of about 30 meters, is €150. A more advanced version of the device which can handle up to sixteen calls at once with a 50m range will set customers back around €600.

Downlink speeds for the two Signal Boxes are limited to 14.4Mbps and 21Mbps, respectively. There will be no additional monthly charges to use the devices, although customers will need an existing DSL connection, and use mobile devices with O2 SIM cards (although phones on other networks can make emergency calls through the Signal Box femtocells).

The Signal Boxes are made by Alcatel-Lucent, and are integrated within the O2 network, meaning that calls won't be dropped when transitioning from the wider network onto a local one.

Since last October, Vodafone Germany has offered similar femtocells for business customers in Germany, and has recently expanded the availability of the devices to private customers. Its 'Super Signal' offerings include a €50 femtocell that can manage eight simultaneous calls (with a usage fee of about €10 per month); and one that handles up to 28 calls at once for about €285 (with a monthly fee of about €47).