5 bar Vodafone 3G reception with Sure Signal… eventually

Where I live, the mobile phone reception can be a little… patchy… at times.  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 (and I haven’t tried T-Mobile but the coverage map doesn’t fill me with hope).  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 the 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.  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 phone – 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), so 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.  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/businesssuresignal instead.  To be fair, that is also on the quickstart guide – but in a far less prominent position, in black text on a red background. 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. 

Text message from Vodafone to say that the Sure Signal is activeA 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.  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.  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.

Further reading

10 thoughts on “5 bar Vodafone 3G reception with Sure Signal… eventually


  1. @Rich – I have to say I’m not sure. Because I have a weak 2G signal in the house as well, I’m not sure if my SMS is going over the 3G Sure Signal connection or the normal GPRS network… I’m guessing it’s using the 3G.


  2. Cool thanks mark. Ive bought one and will find out. At certain times of the day i comepltly loose reception not just 3g but all 2g services and this can last for 30 minutes or so. iv reported to vodafone and there not much help. So will see how this works.

    Thanks again.

    Rich


  3. Hi Mark
    I read your post and have forwarded the link to our IT Dept for my colleagues.
    I am on my 2nd SS box, sure I can receive calls but I am, like scores of others, unable to make a call
    I use an iPhone 3GS and I was wondering if you use the same, if you do have the same how come your phone works fine?
    This is not a cynic post BTW, I promise I am keen to understand, it is just that no matter what I do I can not make calls and wondered how you manage to get it working.
    Thanks
    Adam


  4. @Adamski I have used my iPhone 3G (not 3GS) and a Nokia handset with the Sure Signal. Neither seemed to need any work to be done – they just detect the 3G signal in the house in the same way that they would for any cell tower. Obviously, with the iPhone, I send the data traffic over WiFi at home, but the voice didn’t require any setup once the Sure Signal box was active.

    Not sure what’s happening with your 3GS – it sounds strange but good luck!


  5. @adamski,

    The only issue i have had with mine was when my router drops connection (which it does when it reboots everynight) the suresignal wouldnt automatically reconnect so had to be unpluged and plugged back in again.

    Rich


  6. Can you ping the sure signal? I get 100% packet loss when trying to and do not see it listed in my router admin as a uPnP device. Its been on 48 hours now is registered but will not connect. I have even stuck it on the DMZ.


  7. @Mat – TBH, I’m not sure what IP address the SureSignal box is using… it doesn’t have a UI and I’d need to start tracing my network to drill down and work out what it’s doing…

    My router doesn’t have uPnP and, as I didn’t have to make any router config changes, I imagine that the device is calling home and, because the connection is instigated from within my network, responses make it across the router/firewall.

Leave a Reply