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April 7, 2009
The first UMTS femtocell standard is now officially complete, the fledgling market's trade body, the Femto Forum Ltd. , announced Tuesday.
The Forum, along with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the Broadband Forum , revealed today that the specifications for a number of critical features are now complete for UMTS femtocells.
The new femto specifications cover: network architecture; radio and interference aspects; management and provisioning; and security.
These were the last items to be finalized for inclusion in the 3GPP's Release 8 set of specifications. The architecture, radio, and interference specs were wrapped up in December, but the security and management items were delayed and given an extended deadline of March. (See Femtos Flesh Out Standards.)
The lack of complete femtocell standards has been cited as one of the main reasons why operators have so far failed to commit to large-scale commercial deployments.
Up to now, commercial femto rollouts, and the availability of commercial home basestation services, have been small-scale. As a result, femto shipment volumes for 2009 are expected to be below 1 million, according to Aditya Kaul, senior analyst at ABI Research . (See Operators Feel Femto Frustration, Who Makes What: Femtocells, MWC 2009:T-Mobile Preps Femto Launch, Femtos Mean Business for Orange, and Vodafone Flirts With Femto Rival.)
The completion of the standard specs should help to the market to develop further, though at a limited pace. The new full standard will enable full interoperability testing between femto access points and network gateways: The Femto Forum aims to demonstrate multi-vendor interoperability throughout this year.
"The starting gun is fired for standards-compliant femtocells and gateways," gushes Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum in a prepared statement. This will enable "a complete end-to-end femtocell system based entirely on standards," he tells Unstrung.
Saunders says it has taken just 12 months from the initial discussions to a completed standard, and it's "remarkable to have gotten this far. They said it couldn't be done."
For network management and provisioning, the Forum turned to the Broadband Forum's TR-069 protocol that is widely used in fixed broadband networks and set-top boxes. The Broadband Forum has just published the data model for femtocells with the flashy new name, TR-196. This protocol handles automated remote provisioning, diagnostics-checking, and software updates. (See Femtos Turn to DSL for Provisioning Smarts .)
For the security elements, the femto standard uses Internet Key Exchange v2 (IKEv2) for authentication between the access points and the network, and IP Security (IPSec) to secure the data exchanged.
Vendors prep standard products
ip.access Ltd. says its femtocell, the Oyster 3G access point, will be compliant with the new management and provisioning specs this year. Any Oyster access points already deployed are software-upgradeable to the new standard. Standards-compliant Oysters are due to be released at the end of this year or early in 2010.
The femto vendor has added an operations, administration, and management (OA&M) agent that enables provisioning by an auto-configuration server (ACS) using the new TR-196 protocol.
The vendor's ACS uses technology, dubbed the Broadband Access Center (BAC), from ip.access partner Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and sits behind the femtocell gateway in the network, according to ip.access CTO Nick Johnson. (See Cisco Femto Spotted at AT&T, Cisco, ip.access Prep Femto Combo, and Cisco Invests in ip.access.)
Ubiquisys Ltd. also announced today that it will support the full standard: Expect a raft of similar announcements from other femto players this week.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung
Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.
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