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Is Vodafone's Station Future of Fixed Mobile Convergence?

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Vodafone, one of the largest phone companies in the world, has been slowly buying (and rolling out) fixed-line broadband services across Europe in preparation for fixed mobile convergence. The company’s plans became more concrete last week when it released a new FMC box developed in partnership with Huawei. The device, called Vodafone Station, is essentially a switch/router for ADSL2+ service that can be shared via Fixed Ethernet or Wi-Fi across the home. It also has a removable USB key that allows adds 3G (UMTS/HSPA) service to the box.

When turned on, the Station uses the HSPA to connect to the Vodafone network, allows folks to sign up for a DSL connection, and allows seamless switching to Vodafone’s service. It allows you to make calls from the fixed network, without using the mobile network. The mobile (3G) connection is used for providing data backup when the DSL line stops working or needs provisioning.The box, which is currently available only in Italy, is eventually going to be released across Vodafone’s footprint. We first wrote about their plans back in September 2007.

While it isn’t explicitly a femtocell solution and restricts itself to being a fixed broadband enabler, it is not hard to imagine its future uses. In the U.S., T-Mobile has offered similar service for voice calls, piggy-backing on other people’s broadband connections. It’s only a matter of time before other service providers introduce something similar to this device as well.

AT&T, which is soon going to be pushing a 3G version of the iPhone, will be a good candidate for offering similar boxes. Such a device helps them overcome coverage issues, and at the same time takes a load off their wireless backhaul network. More importantly, it makes it easy enough for them to sell a bundled service and take market share away from cable companies. When viewed through that prism you can understand why the honchos at AT&T are always talking about wireless, and why cable companies are ready to spend billions to go wireless.

20 Responses to “Is Vodafone's Station Future of Fixed Mobile Convergence?”

  1. Dimitrios Matsoulis

    In many European countries Vodafone has to pass via local fixed lines of others, something which makes an FMC box a not-so-attractive proposition as it involves double billing. Here in Greece OTE starts to produce some results combining its fixed, Internet and 3G ssrvices but it is still early to say how well it works.
    What we are seriously lacking is serious data contracts. Currently Vodafone tops out at 5GB per month, not very good for many users and much worse than competitors Wind and Cosmote. With all the mobile devices coming out very very soon it is good wireless we need more than anything else.

  2. Om,

    Just a clarification, this is not a femtocell product like ip.Access or Ubiquisys. Femtocells use a local UMTS/HSPA radio to make a 3G mobile phone work better indoors. Femtos use the fixed network (DSL) for WAN/backhaul.

    The Vodafone Station is using the HSPA radio for a WAN connection. This is really to make Vodafone’s HSPA laptop data service work better for subscribers when they are at home. It uses Wi-Fi as the local radio, not HSPA.

    The Station is an interesting box, but it isn’t a femtocell.

  3. @ Curtis

    I could not agree more. I think we are beginning to see some interesting things happen in Wireless and we are going to see more such devices. Hopefully we will be able to talk about this in our forthcoming conference, Mobilize in August 08

  4. Om,

    I’ve expected this transition for some time. In fact, the Vodafone Station is a different solution to the same problem of indoor reception being addressed by the likes of IP.Access and Ubiquisys with their femtocell solutions. I think the evolution to broadband wireless indoors combined with broadband wireless outdoors (wimax and LTE) presents HUGE opportunities for increasing ARPU for wireless carriers. Conversely (sp?), I think the cable operators are in deep trouble given the pending fixed mobile convergence.

    Great post and exciting times in wireless.