Probably not, but the fledgling femtocell industry wants to answer that question for operators in order to make the femtocell more than just a fancy signal booster.
To that end, the home base station industry group, the Femto Forum Ltd. , launched an initiative this week to spur the development of femtocell applications. The goal is to work with standards bodies to create a standard set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that will support femto apps. (See Forum Tackles Femto Services and Femto Rivals Team on Apps.)
Femtocells can hold key location, presence, and context information about users, so the idea is to have standardized interfaces that application developers can use to gain access to that information and incorporate it into Web, network, or device applications.
Femto firms are so keen to get apps development going that archrivals Airvana Inc. , ip.access Ltd. , and Ubiquisys Ltd. announced they would work together to support the Forum's initiative to create the common APIs, rather than developing their own proprietary apps that could differentiate their access points.
"It makes sense," says David Nowicki, VP of product management and marketing at Airvana. "We want to enable all the great apps out there for femtocells. We'll have open APIs that all have to be possible."
The femto app store?
Nowicki takes the app development concept a step further and proposes that femtocells could one day have their own app stores, which would see the home base stations join the rush of company's aiming to emulate Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s model. (See BlackBerry App Store Approaches and Vodafone Puts Its Apps in Gear.)
"The whole idea of an app store makes sense on a femto," says Nowicki. "Someday you'll see a femto with a screen on it and you'll be able to download apps."
That femto concept with the screen already exists in Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s picture frame femto, which incidentally, uses Airvana's CDMA femto module. (See Picture This: Moto's Femto Frame.)
Show me the apps
So what are all the nifty things operators can offer to their customers with these little base stations? At the Femtocells World Summit in London, 10 femto firms participated in various live demonstrations, showing off presence and media sharing capabilities.
Here's a snapshot:
ip.access also made this work on the 3G iPhone using Apple's new push service in the 3.0 software. And the user interface on the iPhone actually looks like a fridge.
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung