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Small cells

CTIA 2010: Femto Spotting in Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- International CTIA WIRELESS 2010 -- Femtocells were out in force at the CTIA show in Las Vegas this week, despite the fact that few operators worldwide have actually deployed the small base stations commercially.

Operator deployment plans and new products dominated the femto news from CTIA.

  • The big news of the week for the little base stations was AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s announcement that it will launch its 3G Microcell service nationally next month. AT&T will charge an upfront cost for the femto of $149.99 and will not require customers to pay an additional monthly service charge. Customers will have the option, however, to sign up for unlimited calls on the femto for $19.99 per month. (See AT&T Unveils Microcell Plans.)

    The carrier has set price schemes for the femtos that are designed to encourage customers to take other AT&T services. For example, customers that sign up to the Microcell unlimited calling plan can get the femto for $50 after a $100 mail-in rebate from the carrier. In addition, if customers take an AT&T broadband service when they buy the femto, they will be eligible for a $50 mail-in rebate. Customers that take both the unlimited calls service and a new broadband subscription will effectively get the femto for free after the rebates.

  • Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) revealed that it's trialing Wimax picocells. The carrier expects to roll out the picocells "very soon," according to Iyad Tarazi, VP of 4G network development and engineering at Sprint, in an interview with Light Reading TV.

    Tarazi said Sprint is testing WiMax picocells from three different companies in more than 10 locations.

    Tarazi also said that femtocells are more appropriate for 3G while picocells are better suited for Sprint's proto-4G WiMax network to improve indoor coverage. Click on the image below to see the interview (the femto discussion starts around the 3:45 mark):



  • Light Reading Mobile counts just 10 commercial femto services in a new report, "Who Does What: Femtocell Services," published this week. At this early stage in the market, nearly all of the operators on the list use the small home base stations to improve indoor coverage. The extra value-added services, which the femto industry anticipates, have not yet materialized. (See Who Does What: Femtocell Services.)

    The exception here is NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), which offers dedicated content for femto subscribers and a location-aware application. (See DoCoMo to Upgrade Its Femtos.)

  • Femtocells from Airvana Inc. , Ubiquisys Ltd. , and 2Wire Inc. (which uses a femto module from Ubiquisys) were spotted on Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)'s booth at CTIA -- an unlikely place for the devices to be hanging out. Ericsson has long been on the femto sidelines, abstaining from joining the rush to shrink base stations to improve indoor coverage. The appearance of some femto devices on the Swedish giant's stand doesn't necessarily signify anything about its strategy for femtocells, but it's noteworthy simply because it's so unexpected. (See Ericsson: We Have Nothing Against Femtos, Ericsson's 3G Femto Issue, Femto Chips Too Costly, and Ericsson Stalls on 3G Femtos .)

  • Ubiquisys, along with wireless siting specialist Public Wireless, took the wraps off the industry's first 3G metro femto, dubbed the Colo-Node HSPA, which is designed for outdoor hotspot deployments. (See Ubiquisys Unveils 3G Metro Femto and MWC Preview: Femtos Go Macro.)

    Like indoor femtos for homes or offices, the metro femto uses cable or DSL broadband lines for backhaul. In the US market, for example, the Colo-Node HSPA femto can be mounted on telephone poles and use the cable infrastructure for backhaul, explains Ubiquisys CTO Will Franks, noting that the installation would take just one hour for one engineer. Franks would not comment on whether the product was in trials with operators.

    And there has been plenty of other femto fun at CTIA. Here's a snapshot of the news so far:



    — Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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