Where I live, the mobile phone reception can be a little… patchy… at times.Â Vodafone and O2 are okay, as long as I stay upstairs and away from all of the electrical interference in my home office (not too helpful when I’m working!) but for Orange I have to go outside to get decent reception (andÂ I haven’t tried T-Mobile but the coverage map doesn’t fill me with hope).Â All of that is just for standard GSM coverage – 3G is non-existent… although Vodafone’s coverage map suggests I might be able to get a signal theÂ fields across the road!
As I spend a good chunk of my day on the phone, and VoIP becomes problematic when the local schools kicks out (as my broadband slows to a crawl), I decided to give Vodafone’s Sure Signal a try.Â Sure Signal (formerly known as Vodafone Access Gateway) is a femtocell (a tiny base station, about the size of a typical broadband router) that provides 3G reception and routes the calls over an existing broadband connection although Pocket Lint were less charitable:
“Of course the sceptics amongst us can see Vodafone’s evil plan from the get go. They get you to pay for the shortcomings of their network while at the same time boosting your phone’s capabilities in your home or office so you’ll use it more. Using it more means they get more money from you at the end of the month because you’ve found a new sense of freedom when it comes to making calls or surfing the Web.”
That’s all well and good, but this is my company mobile phoneÂ – I don’t pay the bill – and when it’s the difference between flaky call quality and a clear signal, I’ll happily give up a little bit of bandwidth (after all, this is only voice traffic).
The difference between the Sure Signal solution and a normal VoIP call over my ADSL line is that I’m still using a normal mobile handset to access the network and the portion from the femtocell back to the rest of the mobile network is managed by Vodafone – with whom I have far more trust in managing issues such as latency, jitter, and quality of service than I do in my own ability to configure a VoIP client with a third party SIP provider in a reliable manner.
Only registered mobile phone numbers can access the Sure Signal (up to 4 at a time from a maximum of 32 registered numbers), soÂ it doesn’t provide a service to the rest of the street (at least not unless their numbers are registered too); however it is pretty good to have 5 bar 3G reception in my house for Vodafone-connected 3G handsets (other networks are not supported, neither are 2G handsets).
So that’s the theory.Â Getting the Sure Signal working was not all plain sailing though… Vodafone’s Quick Start guide directs users to register their sure signal at http://vodafone.co.uk/suresignal but it was only after a couple of days of the registration site telling me that technical difficulties were preventing Vodafone from registering the device at the moment and that I should try again in a few minutes, and an unanswered support request, I Googled and found a forum thread that suggested I try http://vodafone.co.uk/businesssuresignalÂ instead.Â To be fair, that is also on the quickstart guide – butÂ in a far less prominent position, in black text on a red background.Â Lo and behold, the second URL uses a different registration form (without the troublesome and confusing interface to accept terms and conditions) and started the activation process.Â
A few minutes later, I received an e-mail from Vodafone to say that the device would be made active and that I’d be notified by text message when it was ready – but that was on Saturday… and nothing happened for a few days so, on Tuesday evening, I e-mailed to find out how much longer I might need to wait.Â I’d started to wonder if there were problems with my router’s firewall configuration but I decided not to change anything and, the next morning, I woke up to a full 3G signal and a message from Vodafone to tell me that the Sure Signal was active.
So, was it worth it? Certainly, a great mobile phone signal is what I was after – and that’s what I got.Â The device has no user interface though (it’s managed from the Vodafone website) – which is probably fine for consumers but, if I have to rely on Vodafone’s offshore support (provided by Firstsource) to deal with any problems (potentially with no phone signal!), the delays in getting the device working do not fill me with hope.
- Interview with Vodafone’s Senior Product Marketing Manager for Sure Signal, Lee McDougall.
- Information on Alcatel-Lucent’s femtocells (of which Sure Signal is one).