Is Vodafone’s Station Future of Fixed Mobile Convergence?

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.