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MWC Preview: Femtocells Get Real

They may be small, but femtocells will be big news at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

It's expected that there will be more announcements from operators about trials and service launches for the little home base stations at the show this year, according to industry sources. In particular, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) may reveal more about its plans for femtocells, after news of its Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)-branded 3G MicroCell product was leaked recently. It is also expected that Cisco will officially talk about what it's doing with femtos, according to an industry source. (See Cisco Femto Spotted at AT&T and AT&T Talks of Q2 Femto Test.)

With commercial femto services available from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), StarHub , and Verizon Wireless , there will be more real-world data to dissect about these services. For example, expect there to be more discussion on pricing models. Unstrung just launched a poll on femtocell pricing models, asking for your views on how much femtocells should cost, and you can cast your vote here. (See Verizon Intros Femtocell and StarHub Launches 3G Femto Service.)

While commercial services have already launched in the U.S. and Asia/Pacific, European operators are still testing femtocells. T-Mobile International AG is expected to reveal the latest findings from its femto trial at the event. (See T-Mobile Trials Femtos, TDC Joins the Femto Club, Huawei, NEC Score Orange Femtocell Deal, SFR Femto Spotted, and Telefónica O2 Preps New Femto Trial.)

The Femto Forum Ltd. has commissioned a comprehensive study on the business case for femtocells, the details of which will be presented at the FemtoZone event next week. (See Forum Studies Femto Biz Case.)

Femtos get down to business
On the equipment side, there will be more varieties of femtocells on show than last year. Femtocells that target businesses are going to be particularly hot. (See Who Makes What: Femtocells.)

There are different approaches to femtocells for the enterprise. In one scenario, a residential femtocell is souped up to have higher capacity and longer range to cover larger areas. In another scenario, several femtocells can be deployed in an office in a kind of mesh or grid and there would hand-off between the mini base stations. (See Femto Shmemto.)

The new 3G picocell from ip.access Ltd. , the nano3G, is among the new mini base stations aiming to blanket businesses with good 3G coverage and will be on show next week. (See ip.access Unveils 3G Pico and SFR Deploys Picos.)

Metro femtocells, which are femtos used outside to cover public areas like train stations or public areas, will also be talked about. (See Operators Eye LTE Metro Femtos.)

What can you do with a femto?
Femtocells aim to be more than just an indoor coverage solution, so there will be oodles of demos this year of applications and services operators could offer with the little base stations.

Ubiquisys Ltd. will demo applications like presence-triggered MP3 downloads, photo/video uploads, and virtual home number calling. The vendor's ZoneGate femtocell will also be demonstrated in two residential gateways. Ip.access is also planning some new femtozone application demonstrations with its Oyster 3Gfemtocell.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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