NEC, Ubiquisys Win Softbank Femto Deal
NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) and its partner Ubiquisys Ltd. advanced from the femtocell trenches and won a key battle today with the announcement of a femto contract from Japan's SoftBank Mobile Corp. , as previously reported by Unstrung. (See Japanese Femto Rules.)
Softbank plans to launch commercial services with the 3G home base stations in January next year, which is the first commercial launch date that an operator has set for 3G femtos anywhere and is well ahead of the industry expectations that femto services will launch in 2010 or later. (See 2010: Year of the Femto.)
NEC also claims the deal is the world's first contract award for an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)-based femtocell system, which comprises IMS core equipment, femtocell gateways, and high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA) femtocell access points.
NEC's femtocell solution incorporates the Ubiquisys Zonegate access point (a.k.a. femtocell). The Ubiquisys femto is in trials at several operators, including Telefónica UK Ltd. , SFR , and T-Mobile International AG , but the deal with Softbank is the startup's first commercial contract. (See NEC, Ubiquisys Team, Vodafone, O2 Test Femtocells, France Is Favorite for Femto First , and T-Mobile Invests in Femto Firm.)
"A light has been begun to shine on a lot of the hard work we've had to do confidentially," says Keith Day, VP of marketing at Ubiquisys. "Operators have been very operationally focused… rather than [considering] whether this is the right approach or strategy. It's very important for the industry to have gotten beyond the concept stage."
According to the earlier Unstrung report, Softbank is also checking out the femto solution from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Softbank has deployed 20,000 units as part of its trial, but an industry source at the time did not think the operator was ready yet for a mass market deployment because there were still some technical issues.
Softbank must also be confident of resolving a regulatory issue that could hinder the widescale rollout of its femtocell network. In Japan, only a qualified engineer can install a base station, and this rule applies to the small home base stations as well. The policy is expected to be changed by the end of the year.
Softbank had not responded to Unstrung's questions as this article was published.
The Japanese operator has long been at the forefront of femtocell developments. It staged a big femto demonstration more than a year ago with equipment from many different vendors, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), ip.access Ltd. , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS). (See Softbank Trials AlcaLu Femto, AlcaLu, Softbank Team, Softbank Trials Femtocell, Softbank Demos Moto Femtocell, Ubiquisys, Softbank Demo , and Sonus Joins Softbank Demo.)
In other NEC news today, the Japanese vendor made a strategic investment in Kineto Wireless Inc. , whose unlicensed mobile access (UMA) technology is used in dualmode, cellular/WiFi, fixed/mobile convergence services and is also part of the RAN gateway approach to connecting femtocells to the mobile core network. (See Kineto Supports HNB, 3GPP Picks Femtocell Standard, UMA Nears 3GPP Approval, and RadioFrame Slams Kineto Claims.)
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung