Fourplay frolics: Vodafone launches landline broadband

TV the ‘step-change in customers’ lives’. But what's on? Football?

As expected, Vodafone has launched Connect, a consumer broadband service - and, as expected, the speeds are disappointing.

While AQL and Gigaclear will let you have a gigabit or more, and Virgin Media offers 152Mbps, the new Vodafone service is aimed at BT’s 76Mbps Infinity 2 package.

Vodafone claims that it will offer speed parity with BT but will not be offering the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service which BT offers with Infinity 4, and there are no plans to do so.

The main pitch is price, especially for Vodafone customers. The special feature is control of the clever router from an app. Android and Apple only, sorry everyone else.

Prices, as ever, are complex, with 17Mbps at £5 a month (£10 when it becomes available for non-Voda customers later in the year), £15 for 38Mbps, and 76Mbps at £20 (£25).

All contracts are eighteen months long but the first twelve months are discounted, with £5 off each tariff. A phone line is £16.99 a month. Vodafone promises no bars or usage caps.

Andrew Ferguson from Think Broadband told El Reg: “The pricing looks fairly normal and may struggle to attract new people to Vodafone, but may work as a retention tool. Unfortunately, this is the path that Orange/EE took with its Home Broadband service and it never broke into the league of the major players, so a lot will depend on what special offers Vodafone can come up with.”

The element Vodafone really lacks is content. In the face of the BTEE deal, where the merged company has the biggest subscriber base, the most spectrum and above all, football rights, Vodafone is going to have to look hard at buying something people want to watch.

The company is investing significantly in manning the programme, which will create more than 400 new jobs in the Hammersmith and Glasgow. The 76Mbps FTTC (fiber-to-the-curb) service — built on the infrastructure Vodafone acquired when it bought a chunk of Cable & Wireless — currently passes nearly 20 million premises across the UK: with that figure increasing to around 22 million later in the summer.

Vodafone has spent the first year connecting 1,000 BT exchanges to its fibre network.

The combination of the router, and what Cindy Rose, consumer director at Vodafone UK described as a "unique internet companion app", offers a range of features which will give customers greater control over the devices in the home:

  • ‘Boost’ allows customers give one device priority over others for two hours
  • ‘Beam’, which uses Beamforming technology, sends a stronger Wi-Fi signal to compatible devices wherever they are in the home
  • ‘Family Time’ allows customers to easily manage and set time limits, giving them control over when Wi-Fi is available and when it’s not
  • ‘Guest Wi-Fi’ allows controlled Wi-Fi access to household guests in one click

Vodafone is using the same router for both DSL and fibre connections, based on the Broadcom 63168/6303 (dual 400MHz MIPS) chipset; it has four 1Gb RJ 45 sockets; 802.11ac, 5GHz 3x3/11n, 2,4GHz 2x2 dual band concurrent with MIMO and Beamforming; two USB 2.0 ports; and gives out a reassuring glow to let you know that it’s on.

Vodafone Red (pay monthly mobile) customers will also get inclusive calls anytime to landlines, plus 300 free minutes to mobile numbers. And every customer gets inclusive evening and weekend calls, plus discounted Sure Signal units to boost mobile coverage indoors if necessary.

Vodafone Connect will initially be offered to existing Vodafone UK customers in Manchester, Berkshire and parts of Hampshire and Surrey followed by Essex, Hertfordshire and Yorkshire in the next few weeks, and rolling out to the rest of Vodafone’s UK customer base later in the summer — at which point customers will be able to buy the service over the phone or at a Vodafone shop.

Vodafone already offers fixed broadband services across 12 countries in Europe, where it has more than 11 million subscribers.

“We’re looking forward to bringing our consumer customers the benefits of our experience in providing fixed and mobile services, both here in the UK and elsewhere around the world," said Jeroen Hoencamp, CEO of Vodafone UK.

As for the year ahead, we're ready for the "move into offering TV services, [which is] a step-change in our customers’ lives", he added.

Rose gushed about the launch, describing it as a "new era for Vodafone", adding that we “wanted to start our journey into fibre optic broadband and home phone with an exclusive offer available only to existing Vodafone customers as our way of saying thank you for their loyalty."

She explained that while Vodafone had offered a broadband service three years ago, that was before owning the Cable and Wireless backhaul.

Rose responded to The Register's questions on Vodafone customer services creaking by acknowledging that the IVR systems are not working properly and that there was more to delivering customer services than just the number of people Vodafone was employing to answer the calls.

She said the new systems would be implemented soon. Despite having worked for Virgin Media she rejected our assertion that 76Mbps was behind the curve, saying that's what she had at home and thought it was plenty.

Vodafone will add broadband and home phone services to its mobile package, presenting one bill to customers covering all services – home phone, mobile and broadband. ®

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