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Small cells

Airvana Thinks Business With Big Femto

Competition in the enterprise femtocell market is finally starting to heat up.

Airvana Inc. has this morning unveiled its first 3G femtocell aimed at business users. The Chelmsford, Mass., firm has introduced its "HubBub High-Capacity" femtocell a UMTS-based 3G base station aimed at improving voice coverage and data capacity in the work place. (See Airvana Adds UMTS Femtocell.)

In principle, an Enterprise Femtocell works the same as a regular home base station: The device uses a tiny cellular radio to provide increased capacity in an office or public space while backhauling traffic through the company's wired broadband network.

The key difference between the home and the office is that enterprise femtocells offer better performance.

Airvana says the HubBub High-Capacity femtocell supports 16 simultaneous users with 21.6-Mbit/s download speeds and 5.7-Mbit/s uploads with coverage of up to 600 meters, or up to 40 users with low-bandwidth demands. The company says the coverage range is nearly three times that of residential femtocell technologies.

Airvana is pushing the high-capacity box as a device that can be used by operators to get new enterprise users and drive up average revenue per user (ARPU) by increasing voice and data usage. The company says the box can be in office spaces or in public areas.

There hasn't been a huge number of enterprise femtocell launches yet. AirWalk Communications Inc. and Ubiquisys Ltd. are working on enterprise femtos, while Salt SA has been developing a commercial service with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701). Also, ip.access Ltd. targets enterprise users with its next-generation 3G picocells, sometimes called Super Femtocells. (See Femtocells Go to Wisconsin, Huawei, NEC Score Orange Femtocell Deal and Ubiquisys Updates Enterprise Femto .)

Fresh competition in the enterprise cellular market came into focus last week, however, as startup SpiderCloud Wireless unveiled its Enterprise Radio Access Network (E-RAN) campus networking product. The Ex-Flarion folk at the startup say that the device isn't an enterprise femtocell. Nonetheless, the E-RAN concept will likely compete with enterprise femtocells for business dollars. (See Look Out – Here Comes SpiderCloud! for more.)

Currently, businesses can boost in-building coverage using distributed access antenna systems or WiFi-powered VoIP systems. (See In-Building Cellular vs. Wireless LAN for a handy guide.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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