Small cells

DoCoMo to Upgrade Its Femtos

Japan's leading mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), is going to introduce a faster, multi-user femtocell for its Home Area service during the second half of this year.

The new High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) home base station supports up to four users and offers downlink speeds of up to 14 Mbit/s, compared with the 3.6 Mbit/s DoCoMo's current femtos can achieve. The new femto is also capable of providing High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) speeds of 5.7 Mbit/s, although the operator has not yet launched HSUPA services. A spokeswoman tells Light Reading Asia that the launch date for HSUPA services has not yet been set and there are no immediate plans to introduce the uplink enhancement.

The spokeswoman also explained that while DoCoMo is working with specific vendors, it isn't identifying its femto vendor partners yet, though Mitsubishi Corp. has been named previously as a supplier. (See Japanese Femto Rules.)

The Home Area service -- which was launched in May 2008 as "Home U" using WiFi to connect users to the home network, with a femtocell option introduced later in the year -- is designed to deliver a converged fixed mobile service to users in their home locations and to reduce the pressure on the operator's network. (See DoCoMo Does FMC.)

DoCoMo estimates that between 60 percent and 70 percent of its packet data users are active in the evenings at home, a time when the network is at its busiest.

DoCoMo is hoping the introduction of the new femtocell model will help boost uptake of the Home Area service, which boasted 24,000 users at the end of DoCoMo's 2008/2009 fiscal year (March 2009).

DoCoMo is using femtos both to provide high-quality in-home coverage and to offload traffic from its FOMA mobile network, which is becoming more congested. This is a different approach from Japan's third mobile operator SoftBank Mobile Corp. , which was the first to introduce femtocells commercially but uses them primarily to extend quality coverage to support high-value business clients. (See Softbank Picks NEC Femto and NEC, Ubiquisys Win Softbank Femto Deal.)

Softbank chief strategy officer, Tetsuzo Matsumoto, has also previously stated that cell-to-cell interference issues needed to be solved before it would deploy femtocells as a full-scale capacity solution.

DoCoMo's decision to upgrade its femto offering will therefore give momentum to femto supporters, who claim the technology can already be used as more than mere coverage extensions.

DoCoMo is also looking to leverage the convergence of mobile and fixed network functions by adding mobile-facilitated intelligent applications to the Home Area service. For example, it can send automated message alerts to parents when a child's handset registers with the femtocell, so the parents know the children are at home.

DoCoMo is also examining the option of allowing mobile marketing services that work on a similar principle and could send vouchers when handsets are detected by the femtocell.

Femtocell deployment is just one of the competitive tactics being used by Japan's mobile operators as they battle for subscribers in a highly developed and competitive market.

In the June subscriber figures released by the operators today, Softbank gained 112,900 connections, giving it the biggest monthly gains for the 26th month in a row. The additions take its total number of mobile subscribers to just over 20.9 million.

DoCoMo was close behind, with 112,400 net additions, taking its subscriber base to 54.9 million, while EMobile Ltd. added 91,600 new connections to reach a total of nearly 1.7 million customers. KDDI Corp. gained just 43,800 new subscriptions during June, giving it a total of almost 31 million mobile customers.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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