Vodafone has quietly launched its own femtocell product aimed at boosting 3G coverage indoors, but has limited the release to select business customers.
The company has begun rolling out femtocell services under the name of Vodafone Expand to selected business customers whose offices reside within the company's 2100MHz spectrum footprint.
Vodafone is offering two devices: a small expander and a large expander that will allow businesses to offload their mobile phone call and data traffic from the Vodafone network onto the customer's own fixed-line broadband service in areas where there may be difficulty getting coverage, particularly inside the building.
The smaller device is designed for between 10 and 20 users and is capable of handling up to four connections at once, while the larger device is for between 40 and 80 users and can handle up to 16 connections simultaneously. These femtocell devices appear different to the Sure Signal products offered by Vodafone in the UK and New Zealand.
Vodafone CEO Nigel Dews told ZDNet Australia that the company had opted for a quiet launch to ensure that it got the technology right.
"What we wanted to do is get it right for business customers first," he said. "You can do tailor-made things for business and learn about the product in the business. They were the number one priority, particularly small business, and then we can take that learning and turn it into a good customised product for customers later in the year."
Business customers who were opting for Vodafone Expander services were those who were identified as having issues with receiving coverage in their buildings, Dews said.
"Everything we're making available is being taken up but we're doing it on a priority basis at the moment for small and medium-sized business customers. [It is] based on whether they've got some kind of in-building issue. It's not he who cries loudest or anything," he said.
Dews said that the telco will wait and see whether the roll-out of 850MHz services this year improves in-building coverage for Vodafone customers before offering the femtocell product to consumers later this year.
"For consumers, importantly the 850 [MHz] and its in-building propagation qualities are going to make a very big difference. So getting that 850 layer into our network and seeing how that works for our customers will, I think, make quite a difference as to who does need a femtocell."
Dews said that so far 550 Vodafone base station sites had gone live with 850MHz services, with a total of 1500 sites to be live by the end of 2011.
Rival telco Optus launched its own femtocell product to consumers last month.