Thursday, 12 July 2007
Femto-Mania catching on
Recently there is a lot of activity that is going on, on the Femtocell front.
It is an excellent concept as it would now be possible to have small (see figure on left) base stations in your house that will give you a reliable coverage even in your basement.
The most high profile announcement was by Nokia-Siemens Networks who plan to launch the technology commercially by Q3 2008.
According to Wireless Week, DSL box developer Thomson have partnered Nokia-Siemens to develop 3G devices for in-home wireless broadband access.
“Our novel Femto Home Access solution meets what the market really needs. It is a strong combination of telecommunications end-to-end expertise, femto cell know-how and consumer mass market understanding,” says Ari Lehtoranta, Head of Radio Access, Nokia Siemens Networks. “We are driving a network solution with standard and open interfaces to enable open innovation and variety of supply for the Femto customer premises equipment.”
The Nokia Siemens Networks 3G Femto Home Access solution introduces a new network element, Femto Gateway. Femto Gateway does not require changes in the operators’ existing core network, as it connects to the core network over a standard interface. Furthermore, by extending this standards-based approach towards the Femto Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) at homes, the Femto Gateway will allow customer equipment from multiple vendors to be connected to it. The Femto Gateway will support any Femto CPE certified by Nokia Siemens Networks to conform with the interface. Nokia Siemens Networks will co-operate with Femto CPE vendors to ensure interoperability of their equipment to the Nokia Siemens Networks interface.
Femto CPE’s use IP broadband backhaul and are easy to install at home in the same way as xDSL/WiFi modems. The Femto cell functionality can be packaged to the operator-specific home gateway devices together with other functionalities, like WiFi, Ethernet routing or storage.
On the operator side, O2 has previously expressed interest in the technology, while Orange and Vodafone are assessing the potential of femtocells. The Japanese operator Softbank has also talked about launching the technology commercially.
It's not known which operators will be the first to undertake trials, said Nick Johnson, chief technology officer of IP Access, one of several companies that makes femtocells, the small 3G base stations that enable the improvement.
Mobile phone company Vodafone Group PLC has issued a request-for-proposal to femtocell vendors, said Stuart Carlaw, research director for ABI Research. "When you get to an RFP, it's pretty serious stuff," he said.
Sprint Nextel Corp. and Softbank Corp. in Japan are also out in front, with Softbank demonstrating femtocells earlier this week in Tokyo.
IP Access demonstrated its Oyster 3G home access femtocell deep in a London wine cellar on Friday (6th July), transmitting a video conference call between two mobile phones.
The technology will compete with other carriers' Wi-Fi coverage, which enables UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), a way to make call over a Wi-Fi hotspot that's plugged into a home DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection and have them billed to a mobile phone account. UMA is used in offerings such as BT Group PLC's Fusion service.
Femtocells hold an advantage in that they can be used by 3G mobiles, while only a few models support UMA and Wi-Fi, Carlaw said.
Carriers will likely end up subsidizing the cost of a femtocell, which is probably now around US$120 to $130, or bundling it as part of a service package, Carlaw said. "A consumer is not going to pay," the analyst added.
Ubiquisys, a leading femtocell vendor, expects trials to begin in Europe this year. Martin McNair, a general partner at Advent Venture Partners, which has backed Ubiquisys, said that the technology would provide customers with better reception than a digital cordless phone, and will benefit mobile phone companies by stimulating more usage indoors, where most mobile phone calls are made. He said that mobile phone companies are likely to subsidise the mini base stations - which will be about the size of a small router and plug into a broadband connection - to benefit from higher mobile usage and increased customer loyalty.
PicoChip expects to triple revenues this year, and triple them again next year to about $15m a quarter, the level the firm has identified as suitable for an IPO, according to CEO Guillaume d'Eyssautier. "We expect to get to $15m a quarter in between 18 to 24 months," d'Eyssautier told EW. Driving a large part of the anticipated revenue growth is the adoption of femtocells by the wireless carriers.
Recently FemtoForum has been formed. Holding their first plenary Monday (July 2) in London ahead of the first Home Access Point and In-Building Conference that opens Tuesday (July 3) , the group has revealed the names only of seven of the founding members of the Forum. "We have about 40 members and sixty companies will be represented at the plenary, but some prefer for now to keep their powder dry as regards membership", Simon Saunders, an independent consultant who will chair the Forum told EE Times Europe .
Those going public now include femtocell technology pioneers such as picoChip, ip.access, Ubiquisys, Airvana, Netgear, RadioFrame, and Tatara.
ABI predicts around 52,000 femtocell units will ship this year, with around 1 million in 2008 when deployments become more widespread. However, femtocells are not likely to replace Wi-Fi, as some carriers already have huge investments in that technology.