No Femtos in Verizon's First LTE Rollout

Verizon Wireless does not plan to deploy Femtocells in the first rollouts of its proto-4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband network, Unstrung has learned.

And the tiny home base stations are not included in the scope of the contracts for radio access network (RAN) equipment that the operator has announced with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See MWC 2009: Verizon Picks LTE Vendors.)

"Femtocells are not currently envisioned for the initial [LTE] deployment and they are not part of these contracts," says a Verizon Wireless spokesman.

The operator is focused on building out LTE macro coverage in 20 to 30 U.S. markets in 2010, but it has not ruled out the use of femtos in the future. The spokesman tells Unstrung that femtocells "may be down the road," in its LTE strategy.

At the end of last year, Verizon CTO Dick Lynch suggested in a presentation that the operator was sizing up femtocells for its LTE network as a way to bring new home networking services to consumers in conjunction with its fixed broadband service FiOS. But those plans are not going to materialize in the first wave of Verizon's LTE rollout. (See AT&T, Verizon Plot Faster Futures.)

The operator already offers a 2G CDMA home base station, called the Network Extender, for $250 to improve indoor coverage. (See Verizon's Secret Weapon and Verizon Intros Femtocell.)

According to Thomas Norén, Ericsson's director of LTE, there is no need for femtocells in early LTE deployments. The Swedish vendor has a GSM femtocell product, but it has stayed out of the 3G femtocell market and it doesn't have firm plans to develop LTE femtocells. (See Ericsson Stalls on 3G Femtos , Femto Chips Too Costly, and Who Makes What: Femtocells.)

"In general, femtocells can be an option when you have established macro coverage and you want to complement that macro coverage," says Norén. "At first, you won't have a great need for femtocells because an operator first needs to build macro coverage."

Norén would not comment on the specific plans of Verizon, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), or Telia Company , the three operators with which the Swedish vendor has commercial LTE contracts. But he said that generally LTE femtos were "not high on the agenda right now" for operators.

For Ericsson, LTE femtocells were a "candidate for future product development, but that's several years in the future," he says, adding that it depended on the market demand.

With home base stations out of the plans for the start of Verizon's LTE rollout, it's not clear whether Verizon would use small cells, or metro femtocells, to cover hot spot areas, such as airports or shopping malls, which is an concept that gained some momentum last year among vendors and operators. The idea is that femtocells would be housed in rugged outdoor casings and installed on lampposts, for example. (See Vodafone Dreams of Metro Femto, Operators Eye LTE Metro Femtos, picoChip Touts LTE Femto, and Femto Shmemto.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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