Femto Players Gun for Gateways
Triple play home gateways that provide broadband, voice, and video services are already being deployed by many carriers, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), and Orange (NYSE: FTE). (See Gateway Key to BT's Fusion Flop, AT&T Launches HDTV, BT Gets a Gateway, and Verizon Moves Toward Home Gateway.)
Now the plan is to add femtocell capabilities to such gateways.
Femtocells, the mini base stations that provide enhanced mobile voice and data coverage inside people's homes, are attracting the attention of some of the world's biggest operators, most notably France Telecom, Japan's SoftBank Corp. , and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), even though the technology is not yet ready for widescale deployments. (See Vodafone RFP Fuels Femtocells, FT Preps Femtocell RFP, and Softbank Trials Femtocell.)
Industry analysts, vendors, and carriers all believe that femtocells will begin to provide enhanced 3G coverage marketed in consumers' homes in significant volumes in 2008 or 2009, with research house Ovum Ltd. anticipating a global installed base of 12 million in 2010 and 17 million in 2011.
By that time, femtocells look set to be available as standalone units and as part of quad-play home gateways.
Nokia Networks has just announced its femtocell product and a partnership with home gateway specialist Thomson S.A. (NYSE: TMS; Euronext Paris: 18453), whereby the French vendor will integrate the Nokia Siemens 3G Femto Home Access into its residential gateway. (See NSN Intros 3G Femtocell and Thomson, NSN Team.)
And Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is planning a similar announcement, though it is keeping its partner details under wraps at present. The company has developed its own femtocell product, called the Femto Base Station Router (BSR), which is being put through its paces by Softbank. That product is based on the BSR product announced by Lucent in February 2006. (See AlcaLu, Softbank Team and Lucent Unveils Mini 3G Router.)
Michel Rahier, president of the vendor's wireline business group, says Alcatel-Lucent has been "looking hard at the femto space -- we own a lot of patents here." During a media briefing in London last week, Rahier said homes are migrating toward triple play home gateways and also want high quality mobile services in their homes, so a move toward an integrated home gateway/femtocell will address market demand.
So will AlcaLu be developing an enhanced gateway with its partner 2Wire Inc. , in which it holds a stake? (See Alcatel Buys Into 2Wire.)
Rahier said he's "not going to comment on femtocell integration, but it would make sense to do it with 2Wire."
That doesn't exclude other options, though. A report in French trade publication Réseaux et Télécoms suggests AlcaLu is working with another of its customer premises equipment (CPE) partners, Sagem Télécommunications SA , on an integrated home device.
AlcaLu declined to comment on any co-developments, while Sagem had not responded to questions as this article was published.
Nokia Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent are just the latest firms talking about a 3G-enabled home gateway. Femtocell startup Tatara Systems Inc. is developing a product with NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), while fellow specialist Ubiquisys Ltd. has just announced a partnership with home device giant Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR). (See Netgear, Ubiquisys Team and NEC Teams With Tatara.)
Ubiquisys CTO Will Franks told Unstrung that his company expects to have a standalone femtocell ready for volume production in September, while a combined device developed with Netgear should be ready for volume production in early 2008.
"Netgear has a strong consumer brand, large volumes shipped, and it has good relationships with carriers," noted Franks in a telephone interview. "Also, it has a good understanding of what home devices are all about."
Ubiquisys is also believed to be working with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) on its femtocell developments.
Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) also has a product in development, but is focusing on marketing a 2G (GSM)-enabled home gateway first, having announced the development at the 3GSM event in February this year. (See Ericsson Unveils Femtocell.)
Now Ericsson is developing a 3G femtocell that, initially, will be a standalone product that can plug into a fixed broadband home gateway.
Ultimately, integrating femtocell capabilities into a multiservice home gateway makes a lot of sense, reckons Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst at Unstrung Insider, who issued a report on femtocell developments earlier this year. (See 3G Home Base Stations: Femto Cells & FMC for the Masses.)
"This is absolutely the way to go," says Brown. Integrating the mini base station into a larger platform "saves money on shared components, such as memory and power supply, enables the service provider to implement quality of service," and will further tie the subscriber to the carrier's service, says Brown. "Carriers want the femtocell integrated into a home gateway."
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading