Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona

In case there was any doubt in anyone's mind, the femtocell news flow from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona shows that mobile operators are keen to get their hands on these tiny home base stations, plunk them in their networks, and see if they can make a compelling business case for them.

Operators and vendors have already begun to pair off to take these devices for a spin. Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), Telefónica Europe plc (O2) , and Telia Company all announced femtocell trials at the show in Barcelona. (See Vodafone, O2 Test Femtocells, TeliaSonera Trials AlcaLu, and TeliaSonera Preps Femto Trial, and T-Mobile Trials Femtos, and Femtocells Brace for Big 2008.)

TeliaSonera announced Wednesday it will test femtocells from Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) in a trial in Denmark that will start this spring. Unstrung understands that TeliaSonera will also test the femtocell from Ubiquisys Ltd. , which is integrated into Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)'s product.

Vodafone is also testing femtocells from Alcatel-Lucent as well as Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in Spain. Unstrung has reported it was Alcatel-Lucent and ip.access Ltd. that recently won Vodafone's femtocell RFP, which was issued earlier last year. (See Vodafone Picks Femto Vendors and Vodafone RFP Fuels Femtocells.)

The most likely explanation for this disparity is that Vodafone could be trying out various vendor offerings in different markets. But ip.access would not comment on Vodafone's trial.

"We can't comment on any of our trialists," says Chris Cox, marketing manager at ip.access. "We are in trials with operators, that's all we can say. Just like before, I can't comment on Vodafone."

Telefónica O2 Europe, meanwhile, just started a trial in the U.K. with Ubiquisys's femtocell that is integrated into NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701)'s gear. The operator will also test ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763)'s femtocell.

Telefónica O2 says it particularly wants to test the femtocell "zero touch" claims in its trial. How much operators will have to get involved in helping customers install and set up their femtocells will greatly affect the business case. (See Femtocells & Me.)

There are still many technical and marketing issues to be resolved before 3G femtocells can get off the ground commercially, such as potential interference problems and automated service provisioning, not to mention the business case for how operators will sell the devices and what services will be offered.

While operators and vendors are busily teaming up for trials, vendors are also forming some interesting relationships that show how femtocells will be about more than just improving indoor 3G coverage and offering cheap calls in the home.

Ubiquisys and ShoZu , which provides software that enables users to share content between Internet-based media sites and mobile phones, announced that they're working together and had a few demos at the show.

They want to enable mobile social networking and deliver what they call "Femto 2.0" services. [Ed note: Hang on, have we had Femto 1.0 yet?] That is, services like home zone-only camera phone uploads to a user's online community, where the image upload can be automatically triggered when a user comes into range of the femtocell. (See Ubiquisys, ShoZu Partner.)

Mavenir Systems Inc. , the service convergence platform startup, and ip.access also got together at the show to demonstrate "femtozone" services. Examples of these services include automated updates sent to a user's mobile phone with presence information from social networking sites. Or, parents could receive automated SMS alerts when their kids enter or leave the home zone. (See ip.access, Mavenir Team, Mavenir Closes In on $20M , and LR Names Leading Lights Finalists .)

And here's a taste of other noteworthy femto news:

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 3:47:46 PM
re: Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona Hi,

The last I heard was that femtocells were having all sorts of problems synchronizing to the network in a good enough fashion for call hand off between adjacent nodes...at least over DSL backhaul.

Any updates?


optodoofus 12/5/2012 | 3:47:46 PM
re: Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona This reminds me a lot of where IMS was 2 - 3 years ago: lots of interest and trials, gee-whiz application demos and absolutely no business case. I hope it turns out better than the IMS story did.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:47:45 PM
re: Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona
The real competition is UMA not landlines. Not sure I want to replace my home router to support my cellphone, even if it is given to me. On the other hand, I was able to use my existing router and connect up my UMA phone in about 1 minute. I think that is the challenge for Femtocells - will people replace their home routers.

Mark Sebastyn 12/5/2012 | 3:47:45 PM
re: Femtocells Go Big Time in Barcelona Agreed there is hype but there is much more tangible user benefit than IMS. Like killing the landline, dead.
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