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back to article Femto fail: Vodafone's Sure Signal gets a bit shaky again

Vodafone's femtocell offering, Sure Signal, is up the spout again. The UK's third largest operator said it was investigating and has recommended that disconnected punters try power-cycling the kit. Vodafone reckons the problem, which surfaced last week, is only hitting a small number of customers, but it's more than enough to …

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Bronze badge

And if Virgin offered one, I'd have one tomorrow.

The problem with most large companies is their killer products never get pushed to market properly, and their junk gets foisted on everyone no matter what.

Seriously, T-Mobile, Virgin, whoever can runs my damn phone that's on the Virgin network, gimme a femtocell and I'll pay you £50 and the privilege of free use of my broadband to do what your back-end radio network should be doing anyway, just for those 100 sq.ft that I call "the ground floor of my house" that I can't get a signal on ANY network whatsoever.

I wouldn't even care about the occasional outage, to be honest, that's just part and parcel of living in a modern world reliant on technology to be 24/7. 99.9% would be more than good enough for me.

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@Lee Dowling

Take out a contract with Orange, and see if their UMA Signal Boost system works for you (checking your cancellation rights carefully...).

This piggy backs the phone calls over your existing household wifi, but doesn't need any dedicated kit as the O2 system does. Nominally not quite as secure as the O2 solution, but cheaper (so just don't plan your next heist using it), also requires you to turn your phones wifi on if you habitually keep it switched off, so possibly a tad less convenient than a femtocell. Note that I don't think iPhones have the necessary gubbins to use this.

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Anonymous Coward

Why not just switch to Vodafone instead.

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not long

EE will announce their femtocell rollout for consumer customers in November - they ran a scale pilot at the start of the year for staff.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: not long

Bit late to the party - I've had a Voda SureSignal for perhaps 2+ years now.

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Re: @Lee Dowling

NO DON'T! It's extremely unlikely you'll be able to cancel due to lack of UMA.

See my rant for my experiences with Orange UMA. If you do want to try it, whatever you do, don't go and take out a contract, they've only got six phones with it on, and they're all on payg anyway.

Blackberries work better than android phones, apparently because the have more of the UMA spec implemented than the rather shonky client Orange have slapped on a few random outdated android devices.

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Re: not long

I also bear the scars of an early adopter, but El Reg is right to say it has steadily improved since the days of the dedicated support line. Back then you would always drop a call when you moved out of range, now it hands over seamlessly and 5 bar coverage is constant and complete. It also transforms the battery life of the family iPhones, so all in all definitely worth the wait.

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I'm having to 'reboot' mine roughly once a day at the moment. It's better than no signal at all, but as soon as my contract's up, I'm ebaying the damned thing and switching to Orange, as they're the only network with a reliable signal in my new house. I also resent having to pay for a service that partly uses my own broadband connection.

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Anonymous Coward

Either it's faulty or perhaps your Internet connection is overloaded - I have two - one at work and one at home and it's not an issue I have seen.

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Anonymous Coward

Me too.

EE was described as crap for data, but by change I've got a t-mobile datacard in one my tablets.

We've been all over the country in recent months. I got internet access virtually everywhere, whereas vodafone? Well don't even start.

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Anonymous Coward

I bought one back in 2010 when I was living in the middle of the countryside in the Highlands - I wasn't getting a signal at home at all. It worked pretty well for quite a long time, but when i moved into the city last year I got teext messages every week from Vodafone asking me to update the registered location of my cell, even though the address they had on file was perfectly accurate. In the end I just gave up, I didn't really need it anymore being in the middle of the city anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Not just for country folk...

I live in North London and the signal for all mobile providers in my house is abysmal due to local activists (a different sort of 'country' folk) blocking a new mast, so I use a sure signal - only cost £50 after a bit of haggling/veild threats with the local vodafone shop.

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FAIL

The flaky connection was why I have just moved to O2.

I got so sick of reboots, bars on the phone but no connection, no connection to my wifes phone.

Great idea if they could keep it working

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Trollface

Wait, what?

You had a flaky signal so you've moved TO O2?

Wow....

And how's that working out for you? Any outages this week? ;)

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Works for me... most of the time...

I got an SS as I work from home and sometimes the signal just decided to go 'bingy bongy' (that's the actual technical term) on me. So installed it - and generally it's been pretty good. Signal quality in up there with landline.

But last night ad to switch it off as it was hard to make out anything being said.

Gave it a brutal restart and now seems to be ok so far...

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why

If you're in range of your home femtocell then you are in range of your home internet connection. So why not make the call via VOIP for almost-zero cost rather than waste expensive mobile minutes?

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Re: why

Mobile minutes aren't expensive if you're on a contract (I have 1000's of minute left at the end of each month).

I don't have to change my number for it to work.

Not all handsets will let you do VoIP dialling direct as if it were a normal contact without having to switch things on.

It's not so much sending as receiving on your existing mobile without having to do any fancy "switching". I just want the phone I have to have signal where I need, when I need, without having to contend with VoIP settings, extra software, etc. and just having people ring me on the number that they would if I were out and about without having to pay a third-party to forward it for me.

Wireless on = an hour of service (granted, you might be nearer a plug, but still hassle).

GSM on = as long as I like.

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Re: why

VOIP still requires setup - it might be built into most phones now but you still have to enter stuff.. OTOH a normal voice call doesn't require any setup at all.

I'm a fan of VOIP - it lets me have a 'vanity' phone number and I don't even care any more what the number on my SIM even is (so I could change mobile providers tomorrow without any downtime).. but it's not mainstream yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: why

For just over £20 I get unlimited calls and texts on Vodafone - so using VoIP is not cheaper. I use Skype for International calls and so people with Skype can call me for free.

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Re: why

Incoming calls. Incoming calls that should able to reach you whereever you are, so the mobile number is the appropriate one.

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Re: why

> Wireless on = an hour of service (granted, you might be nearer a plug, but still hassle).

> GSM on = as long as I like.

That's why we want, "wifi out, GSM in" on a mobile phone. Just need caller ID spoofing (or caller ID off) on the voip outbound call.

Anyone want to write one?

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Re: why

Having tried Skype over EDGE and given up, I assume you're lucky enough to have 3G coverage wherever you are?

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FAIL

Cause and Effect

"Vodafone is the only UK operator to publicly deploy femtocells"

"femtos themselves haven't taken off."

I'd quite happily deploy a femto cell at our satellite office (crap Mobile signal but fibre internet) if the mobile provider we used were a bit brighter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cause and Effect

Switch. In our office there is poor signal - installed a SureSignal and all the Voda people get 5 bars and some of the others have now switched to Voda as a result.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cause and Effect

I'd happily deploy a dozen.

The problem is we have shitty signal from all providers and about 200 staff - plus a steady stream of visitors who want to use their 3g-enabled tablets.

Given I can only maintain 32-64kb/s at the best of times on my phone there, it gets amusing when XYZ mobe operator offers to sell us 7Mb/s circuits using existing towers as a backup to our fibre links.

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Problems

There is one way I can see to improve Femtocell viability: Dedicate a frequency block to them, and set up a standard interconnect protocol.

This way, Femtocells could be produced which are usable by all networks, and connect back to the relevant operator over a standard protocol (preferably which all operators are forced to make available). This would be similar to roaming. This would make larger local cell deployments more viable too: A shopping center, for example, could install some of these, which allow users from all operators to connect.

At the moment, all these miniature cells have to be tied to a single operator, mainly because they own the frequencies. Open up a frequency block for miniature cell use, with restrictions on power output etc. similar to Wifi, and you open up the market in a big way.

Do I expect this to happen? Nope. But I can dream of a future where everyone tries to work for the common good...

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Re: Problems

"But I can dream of a future where everyone tries to work for the common good..."

That's not a future, that's a parallel universe. Or maybe just a fantasy.

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Happy

Re: Problems

vodafone are the only operator in the UK that *has* (in over 95% of the UK) dedicated an exclusive frequency to femtocells. O2 don't have any capacity to do this so their offering is colocated on one of their 2100 bearers, and EE will probably de-allocate one of their four bearers to do the same as vodafone (in time).

Suresignal is an excellent piece of kit but was a bit early to market and lazily implemented - for instance there's no hand-in. Also there should be a means to weight the point at which it hands-out to the macro network as in my house if I don't force the phone to UMTS only it hands-out to GSM where upon it goes all "boingy boingy" as an earlier reader commented!

These things are here to stay and will become even more prevalent in 4G!

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Re: Problems

Ooops! I should have read the whole post. What we need for this is a guard band type licence in the 2100MHz band and a smart operator with multiple tier one interconnect...

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What happens if...

...you have a femtocell from one of these companies, and you go on holiday to somewhere you get broadband (hotel, office, friends, family, whatever) and try to use it there? Is the system "stupid" enough to let you get calls and texts in and out using it?

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Facepalm

Re: What happens if...

Sssssssshhh!!!!

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Silver badge

Re: What happens if...

I believe it's limited to geolocated IP addresses, same way as iPlayer works. Requires a bit of VPN to work.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What happens if...

If you are going to the effort of having it route over a VPN you may as well just use VoIP - talk about using a hammer to crack an egg (or whatever the saying is).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What happens if...

Not sure about that side of the pond, but over here they don't geolocate based on IP, they have GPS antennas. They claim it's a requirement for E911, and also so you don't use it somewhere they're not licensed.

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Re: What happens if...

I think the issue is roaming charges. VOIP on your phone would still need a 3g connection.

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Re: What happens if...

Thanks for the thoughts, all.

Of course, can use VoIP on WiFi at these places (usually, and that's what I do at the moment) but with inbound and outbound texts and bundled minutes, was just a thought.

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Three

I'm currently on week two, and the fifth support person, of trying to get one out of three.

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Flame

But

To make the femtocell work, you have to have a fairly reliable broadband connection. If you are on the arse end of the line from an exchange that was installed pre-1950 with the original cable (like me) then the chance of making anything like this function are zero.

The best bit is that BT flatly refuse to accept that there is an issue; even though the entire area is now fubar. (They don't want to have to replace the cable) I could switch to another supplier; but as they would have to use the cable supplied by OpenReach and that is now rotting away, there is no chance that they would do any better. All that would happen is I call them, they call BT, BT ignores them and I get even more frustrated.

Tried to cancel the account; BT are putting up all sorts of hurdles. A formal letter has now gone off to them and a letter of complaint to OfCOM. I doubt that it will make slightest difference, but it felt bloody good just to vent my anger.

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Anonymous Coward

Not only Vodafone offering femto...

http://www.three.co.uk/homesignal

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Anonymous Coward

Will this work with a 3 Mifi?

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(Written by Reg staff)

No pricing.

Thanks for the link, but you'll notice that the Three offering has no pricing information.

That's because Three don't sell it as such, just give it to those customers who might leave otherwise as mentioned in the article.

Bill.

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O2 - no chance

We tried O2's version with 3 people, and it never worked.

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Flame

Orange UMA? Bah.

Well, I just switched away from Orange because their UMA hasn't worked on either my phone or my wife's for the last 4 weeks. Despite it working for the previous 2 phones I've had over the last 4 or so years.

I've tried all the obvious stuff, and tried to get some support from them, but they didn't want to answer their phones. I tried emailing them, it came back with a rude message saying their email isn't working. I tried them on twiter, where they ignored me for 11 days, then asked for my phone number and postcode.

I'd already spend over an hour and a half trying to get to speak to someone technical about it, and nowt.

Dug out the old Voda sure signal, fired it up and went on a brand new contract with them.

3 said if I wanted one from them, I'd have to sign up for a contract, then they'd decide if I could have one. O2 the same story, when you finally found someone who knew what I was talking about.

Still got to try and cancel the other Orange phone... another hour and a half on the phone to Ireland?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Orange UMA? Bah.

"another hour and a half on the phone to Ireland?"

Could be worse, given that more than a few telcos think that India's a nice place.

Then again, probably will be in due course, when Torange or Orabile or whoever they are this week decide that some bunch of spotty management consultants are right, and customer support would be much better done from india (hello Todafone!)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Orange UMA? Bah.

Did the very short email-fail message come with the subject-line:

Re: webpaymother

?

So professional!

Been there, done that.

And even if you pess the menu-selection for "my phone is lost or stolen" you can still wait over 15mins to get a reply.

And their nearby macro-cell mast being down since 13th Aug (now 15th Oct), leading to dropouts.

Suffice to say my patience is sufficiently stretched that I won't hesitate to leave them the next time something goes wrong.

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I'm well chuffed with Sure Signal (mostly)

I was phoned up by Voda some years ago & invited onto the trial - £100 and a free femtocell for filling out a couple of questionnaires. What's not to like? I grabbed at it with both hands and all my teeth, especially as we live in a hole.

Subsequent service has been mostly good - a few outages but not too long usually. Except when my ISP changed their upstream provider & the femtocell stopped working. I guessed the problem was Voda's whitelist for UK networks, but could I persuade Voda's SS helpdesk of that? It took several e-mails to an unhappy manager there getting him to own the problem for me, and a couple of weeks for him to get their networks people to sort it before I got service back.

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Anonymous Coward

vodafail

had nothing but a bad experience with voda-sure signal.....

I bought a 2nd hand box for £20 from a "high street 2nd hand tat" shop chain and thats where the problems begin.

The previous owner needs to de-register the box before I can register it. Vodafone knows who the customer is who originally owned the box, but refuses to contact them in any was shape or form, even though they know the box has not been connected to the network for over 18 months,,,,,,. The shop I got it from, all they will do is contact the bloke who brought it in to the shop who to date has not done a thing. As the box appears to be in full working order the shop wont refund.... I even asked the police to check to see if it was stolen, The SN has not been placed on any stolen property lists......

I have even offered to pay voda to contact the original "keeper", they are just not interested.... I would have bought one direct from voda so at least I can get signal on my phone but with the shocking way that customer services treat "customers" I doubt there would be much help if there was a problem anyway....

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Anonymous Coward

Orange UMA

It might be better on BlackBerry but from my experience it's utterly dire on the Galaxy S2.

It will connect for a bit after the phone has booted up, but then disconnect and never reconnect again. Until the phone is rebooted.

Plus you have to be using Orange's firmware which means being tied to Orange's upgrade cycle, so new firmware will come between 100 and 1000 years after Samsung release it, and you can't use CyanogenMod etc.

As an owner of a phone that does not do UMA I'd love an Orange/T-Mobile/EE femtocell. Signal is fine upstairs, piss poor downstairs.

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I'm Affected

I seem to be in the minority - my Sure Signal has been dead since Friday. The Vodafone help eforum is next to useless. It keeps telling us to reboot - to no avail. And they refuse to answer the simple question "Do Vodafone know what the problem is?" Rumour has it that they have been carrying out a software upgrade.

I have finally escalated the problem to the CEO's Office. Interestingly their email feedback form insisted on knowing my mobile number, and they promised a call-back! Maybe CEOs can fix Sure Signal Boxes

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I'm surprised

that the ISP's aren't punting dual-sim phones and femto-cells.

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