Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM

Femtocells, the micro mobile base stations that can provide in-building 3G coverage, are creating quite a buzz ahead of next week's 3GSM jamboree. (See 3G Base Stations Hit Home.)

NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) got serious about the technology this week, announcing partnership agreements with two femtocell specialists, Ubiquisys Ltd. and Tatara Systems Inc. (See NEC, Ubiquisys Team and NEC Teams With Tatara.)

NEC will offer the UbiquiSys femtocell as part of its Home Gateway Solutions product range. With Tatara, NEC will integrate the company's femtocell technology into its Home Gateway architecture. UbiquiSys and Tatara announced a partnership in September 2006. (See UbiquiSys, Tatara Partner.)

NEC isn't the only company getting in on the home base station act ahead of 3GSM in Barcelona, as Alcatel-Lucent this week struck a picocell agreement with ip.access Ltd. for indoor GSM coverage. (See IP.access, ALU Team.)

"Femtocells are going to be really hot at 3GSM," says Gabriel Brown, chief analyst at Unstrung Insider and author of the recent report, "3G Home Base Stations: Femto Cells & FMC for the Masses."

The latest femtocell technology is currently being put through its paces in carrier labs, with field trials expected by the end of the year. The partnerships formed by Alcatel-Lucent and NEC will add to the technology's momentum, reckons Brown.

"NEC working with a startup could be the winning combination of innovative technology, big-company backing, and a hunger to win business from incumbent 3G vendors," says the analyst.

The femtocell market is being spearheaded by a small group of specialist startups, including 3Way Networks , RadioFrame Networks Inc. , UbiquiSys, and ip.access. (See RadioFrame Intros Femto.)

And 3Way Networks claims to be one step ahead of its rivals. It says it has the first commercially available femtocell, and will show it off at next week's Barcelona event, which is shaping up to be something of a femtocell fest.

3Way's managing director, Simon Albury, stands by this claim, contending that his home base station is six months ahead of the market. "We're shipping to customers, and [the product] is live in their network trials," he says, but he won't disclose any operator customers or how many users are participating in trials.

3Way Networks targets its home base station at small UMTS operators with fewer than 5 million customers. It will also license the software and reference designs to OEM companies.

Mobile operators are interested in femtocells because WLANs in homes and offices threaten to take data and voice traffic off their networks. Deploying low-cost 3G base stations for indoor coverage would help retain some of that network traffic. Some operators have announced indoor coverage trials, but commercial services won't be available until at least early 2008. (See Base Stations Come Home.)

Home base stations can also reduce operator backhaul costs by using the Internet to send 3G traffic back to the core wireless network. Femtocells typically support four to six users and connect to the user's DSL or cable broadband connection.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading

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jasanz 12/5/2012 | 3:15:05 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM Where is Ericsson in all this? Is their product going to be live this year? Partnerships with other vendors?
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:15:03 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM This market is DOA. Enterprise customers understand the economics of LANs, and increasingly see WLANs as a natural extension. They are not interested in paying a telco to use spectrum they already have and use for free.
Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 3:14:57 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM Ericsson has a home gateway with a GSM femtocell inside (yes, it has WiFi as well). The price and features sound appealing. I havenGÇÖt seen it yet. Think there will be demos at 3GSM.

It also has 3G under development.
wirelessforall 12/5/2012 | 3:14:57 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM This market is not about enterprises. It is mainly focused on a consumer play and immediate reuse of std mobile phones vs expensive WiFi/cellular dual mode devices that have not moved into the mainstream with limited deployments today. Plus the seamless WiFi-cellular handoff piece is still a work in progress.
Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 3:14:56 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM materialgirl:

See what youGÇÖre saying. Your point seems valid enough in some ways, but not others.

ThereGÇÖs a belief from WiFi boosters that 802.11 will takeover mobile devicesGǪ but thereGÇÖs no real evidence it is happening.

Being able to use standard phones is a big deal, especially in the residential and small business markets.
jepovic 12/5/2012 | 3:14:55 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM Uh, check your facts. It's rather WLAN VoIP which is DOA. Operators are building indoor GSM coverage for enterprise customers everyday, since many years, to provide improved coverage and capacity.

WLAN telephony is just slideware. Very few terminals, shaky roaming, lots of dropped calls. Plus you have no enterprise features like PBX integration, call center connections, unified messaging etc.

And what is the business case for WLAN telephony anyway? These indoor GSM base station are dirt cheap. Why complicate things with WLAN and VoIP, which makes the technical solution so much more complicated.

With the prices that enterprise customers pay now, it's not worth the hassle. Most of them couldn't care less, as long as it works and the prices are ok. The same goes for consumers. They will prioritise cool terminals with good battery life, not getting 50% off on 10% of their cell phone calls.
Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 3:14:54 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM Ericsson just announced the GSM product:
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:14:52 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM Dear jepovic:
From what I read, enterprises and hospitals are quite interested in WLAN VoIP. The move is to dual-mode phones everywhere. The same PBX functions can work across the two air interfaces. The dropped call problem comes from cell sites not recognizing WiFi calls. This is a hassle they will live with as they beat their cellular providers into submission by relying more heavily on WiFi over time.
wirelessforall 12/5/2012 | 3:14:49 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM materialgirl,

Reality check - take a peak at the latest dual mode handset deployments from your favorite market analyst (very limited). That doesn't even account for the balance of science that needs to be deployed to get 3G-WLAN handoff working consistently. Battery life, device processing power and lack of WiFi robustness comes into play. Trust me, the user experience sucks and it is for the taking of a few techno geeks.
wirelessforall 12/5/2012 | 3:14:49 PM
re: Femtocells Gear Up for 3GSM jepovic,

VoIP and Wi-Fi as a combo are challenged right now. Wi-Fi on its own has merits as an access technology and very limited non-real time streaming. VoIP has also proven itself on its own but dual mode handsets have a long way to go.

Relative to femtocells, VoIP makes sense since "some" of the leading femtocell providers support a SIP/IMS approach on the backhaul to the cellular network with standard GSM/CDMA to a standard mobile phone. This provides all the cost advantages and traffic offload benefits.
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