Japanese Femto Rules

4:35 PM -- Japan's SoftBank Mobile Corp. is still trying to get the national regulator to change a quirky policy that could thwart its plan for a large-scale femtocell deployment, according to an industry source. In Japan, only a qualified engineer can install a base station, and that rule applies to the small, low-power base stations, too.

Femtocells are supposed to be "zero touch" and easily installed by the users themselves. So, a regulation that mandates sending out an engineer to plug in each and every home access point would kill an operator's femto business case.

The Japanese policy is expected to be changed by the end of the year, which wouldn’t be too soon for Softbank. According to our source, the operator has already installed 20,000 devices, has chosen an NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) solution -- which uses Ubiquisys Ltd. 's femtocell -- and is also checking out equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Softbank isn't quite ready for a mass market deployment because there are still some technical issues, according to the industry source. (See NEC, Ubiquisys Team.)

Softbank is scheduled give the opening keynote address at the Femtocells Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. Hopefully, we'll get an update on the operator's plans and vendor choices then.

Meantime, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) said last week that it was going to use the new HSPA version of Mitsubishi Corp. femtocell for its Home Area service.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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