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Small cells

Femtos Prep Plugfest

9:15 AM -- Femtocells -- the tiny home base stations that improve indoor cellular coverage -- will undergo interoperability testing for the first time starting in March next year.

The development can be seen as a sign that the fledgling femto technology is starting to mature. The Femto Forum Ltd. and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) will test and validate the new UMTS 3G femto standard (called Iu-h) and aim to ensure that any vendor's femtocell works with any other vendor's network gateway.

The goal of the tests is to verify that the UMTS femto standard does what it's supposed to do and that there is a common interpretation of the standard among vendors, according to Femto Forum chairman Simon Saunders. Vendors of femto access points, femto network gateways, security gateways, and chipsets will participate, but Saunders would not disclose how many vendors will take part in the plugfest in March.

Saunders enthuses that, "Vendor interoperability is the key ingredient that will give operators the confidence to start mass deployments."

That may be one important ingredient. A recent Unstrung Insider report, "Femtocells: Market Outlook & Reality Check," finds that operators are still mostly held back from large-scale femto deployments because the wholesale price of the devices is still too high. (See Femtos' Hard Cell and Femtos Promise Big But Cost Too Much.)

Femto access points wholesale for around $150 to $200, but that price needs to reach $100 to trigger operators to place large orders. The Unstrung Insider report says that won't happen until at least 2010.

So while a plugfest is an important step, there are still other more fundamental issues that makes the femto market keep its fledgling status.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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