2010: Year of the Femto
Most operators do not plan to roll out commercial femtocell services until late 2009 and 2010, finds a new survey by Heavy Reading.
The "Femtocell Deployment and Market Perception Study" reveals that early 2010 will be the critical period for commercial trials of the tiny home base stations as operators prepare for full launches later that year or in 2011. This does not necessarily mean that mass market deployments will start in 2010, but rather early commercial activity will ramp up at this time.
Among the 111 responses from the 79 operators surveyed, 54 percent said that they planned to launch services between the second half of 2009 and the end of 2010, and 33 percent said their commercial femtocell launches were scheduled for 2011 or later.
Those timescales show just how much operators have yet to iron out in their femto strategies, from the business case to technical issues like interference management, standardization, service provisioning, and OSS/BSS integration. As Unstrung recently reported, several operators, such as SFR , have said they needed more clarity on femtocell standardization before forging ahead with vendor selections and firming up deployment plans. (See Operators Feel Femto Frustration.)
According to the survey, the two biggest technical issues that operators are concerned about are lack of standards and interference with the macro network. On the standards front, the next few months are very important for femtocell vendors because they aim to finalize Home Node B (or 3G femto) specs at the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) by the end of this year for inclusion in the standard body's next release. (See LTE Focus Puts Pressure on Femtocells, Vendors Unite on Femtocell Architecture, 3GPP Picks Femtocell Standard.)
As for the interference issue, most operators (58 percent of respondents) said they did not know what frequency allocation scheme they would use for a femtocell deployment -- such as using a partial shared carrier or a shared second carrier, allocating a dedicated frequency, or using a "free" second carrier. An operator's frequency allocation choice plays a role in interference management, so the majority of "don't know" responses to this question indicates that interference is an issue for operators and shows that commercial launches are not imminent. (See Femto Firms Counter Interference Flak.)
The main driver for femtocell deployments is simply improved coverage, according to the survey results. While there is strong interest in new in-home services, extending basic voice coverage is the primary goal of femto investments.
The operators surveyed also ranked their perceptions of femtocell equipment suppliers. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) got top marks among the large vendors, while ip.access Ltd. was the highest ranked among the smaller femto vendors.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung