Gives you mobile reception where you can't get it, but cheaper mobile calls and data would have been nice, as would more advanced features.
No matter how many new technologies the mobile phone networks introduce, there always seems to be the perennial problem of poor reception in your own home. With its Sure Signal (previously known as the Access Gateway) femtocell, Vodafone hopes to banish this problem for ever.
The product is essentially your own personal 3G access point – femtocell literally means a quadrillionth of the coverage of a traditional mobile cell – that gives you perfect coverage at home, and routes calls and data over your broadband connection.
Setting the Sure Signal up is incredibly simple. You simply visit the website listed in the setup guide and enter the access point’s serial number and your mobile phone number. You then plug the Gateway into your router via an Ethernet cable and turn it on. Within 24 hours you’ll get a text and an email informing you that your Access Gateway is ready for use, and that’s it.
From your mobile phone, there’s no need to do anything; it will simply connect to your access point automatically, as it will be the strongest 3G signal. The Sure Signal works beautifully. Testing at home we saw our phone reception jump from just two bars of signal strength to full strength; something achieved throughout our home. Vodafone is also considering giving a visual indicator on your phone that the access point is working, by allowing you to set a name for your Access Gateway; this would then be displayed on your phone’s screen instead of ‘Vodafone uk’.
Call quality was excellent and just as good as over the regular telephone network. Should you leave your house, the call should switch to the main network, provided you have reception. Internet browsing was similarly as good. Using the Sure Signal we measured a throughput of 3.06Mbit/s; without it we could only get 1.06Mbit/s.
There’s no need to worry about the security of your phone calls or internet traffic, as data from the Sure Signal is encrypted and sent via a secure IPSec tunnel to Vodafone’s network.
You can give up to 30 mobiles permission to access your Gateway (they all have to be on the Vodafone network), although only four can make phone calls or use the internet at once.
It terms of improving reception the Sure Signal is a real triumph, but we think that an opportunity has been missed. When femtocells were first demonstrated it was shown that they could make mobile phone calls and data cheaper, as everything was being routed over a broadband connection. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with the Sure Signal and all calls and data are charged at your tariff’s normal rate.
There’s also no advanced features, such as being able to connect the Sure Signal to your standard phone line and get it to ring all of the mobiles in the house when a call comes in: something that’s technically possible.
As it stands, the Sure Signal isn’t a femtocell that will revolutionise the way that you use your phone. If you suffer from poor or no coverage, though, it’s absolutely brilliant and well worth £160 to own it outright. You can also get it for £5 a month or free on some new contracts, so check before you buy.