Small cells

MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2011 -- Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) CTO Hugh Bradlaw is not a fan of femtocells.

Speaking here on the subject of mobile data offload technologies, Bradlaw made his position on the small home base stations abundantly clear: "Femtocells -- I usually classify these in the dumb-idea-of-the-week category."

While femtos usually generate a lot of buzz each year here at the mobile industry's annual event, he said it would take a lot more than that to get his company excited about them. "I struggle to see the benefit," he said.

For Bradlaw, femtocells are "an admission of defeat." In other words, by dispatching home base stations for consumers to install themselves in order to get a better cellular signal, an operator is effectively admitting that its network is not good enough and that the coverage is poor.

However, his dim view of femtocells is reserved only for the user-installed, in-home variety. When it comes to operator managed and deployed femtocells, that's a different matter, and Bradlaw has time for this style of femto.

"Operator-managed femtocells can have potential to reduce the cost of network deployment," said Bradlaw. "[Femtocells and picocells] have potential as part of a planned network."

'Technology will not save us'
As for dealing with the exponential growth of data traffic surging through mobile networks, Bradlaw said that it will take more than the newest generation of mobile broadband technologies to relieve the strain on the network.

"There are those who believe technology will automatically save us," he said. "For those who think that LTE is the savior of network traffic demand... Will technology save us? No."

According to Bradlaw, who runs Telstra's dual-carrier 42Mbit/s HSPA+ network in Australia, Long Term Evolution (LTE) offers a 30 percent to 60 percent improvement on HSPA+ in terms of extra capacity.

He argued that rather than faster mobile network technologies, the key to addressing potential mobile network capacity constraints is in fact the availability of new spectral bands -- such as 1800MHz, which Telstra is using for its LTE network rollout later this year -- and traffic management. (See MWC 2011: Telstra Sticks With Ericsson for LTE .)

"Traffic management is going to be absolutely critical," he said, and referred specifically to policy control and quality-of-service capabilities.

He said that adding quality of service to the network will free up bandwidth and guarantee services such as VoIP, but admitted that it's "best-effort traffic that lies below that will suffer." But he added that people will need to understand that they will have to pay for the service levels that they want to achieve.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:12:48 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos

I was jazzed about the home femtocell idea until I found out I'm supposed to pay for the thing -- paying for the privilege of housing the equipment that fixes my operator's inadequate coverage. No thanks.

If they want to truly admit defeat and give me a femto for free, we'll talk.

(I think I've told this story before, but it seems so pertinent right here.)

raya21 12/5/2012 | 5:12:47 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos

Most of what has been stated in the article makes a great deal of sense, though I would like to comment on a few points.


Whether we want to admit it or not, mobile network indoor coverage shortfalls and traffic congestion are realities that we must face and correct sooner rather than later if the mobile communication hype is to stand a chance to live up to consumers’ expectations.


Femto stations are a correct technology component and essential parts of the fix if, as stated, they are deployed and managed by the service providers. There are technical reasons for it (such as network integration and support) which I will not get into here, but suffice it to say that the push to commoditize femto boxes as an off-the-shelf and WiFi-like do-it-yourself fix is unwise and premature. However, the motivation for this push which is solely cost must be noted.


Having said that, it is important to understand that in order to realize mobile communications’ growth objectives, service providers must understand and internalize the need for sensible pricing and affordability. As it was alluded to in the article, the entire value chain must undergo careful analysis as an integrated offering starting with spectrum allocation, tiered usage pricing and quality of service devoid of marketing spins and hype in order to secure and keep the consumers’ confidence.





WilliamofOccam 12/5/2012 | 5:12:46 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos

A case in point is AT&T's 3G MicroCell. Customers can connect these devices to their broadband connection and enjoy (yes, even with AT&T) cellular coverage inside their homes. So you are no longer captive to AT&T's poor coverage and the "radio" load on network is also reduced, improving the experience of other users. however AT&T makes you pay $150 for the device and also bills traffic through the MicoCell as airtime minutes. So not only are you reducing the load on AT&T's network and improving their overall capacity, you are also paying them more for the privelege!

jepovic 12/5/2012 | 5:12:46 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos

Businesses have been paying for "femtos" for years. But of course it's an impossible sell to consumers.

Managed femtos at consumer sites sounds neat, but the managment issues are massive. Upstream connection? Power? Physical access (keys)? What happens if the consumer moves or changes provider?

Why not just make a deal with the local access provider, get a DSL connection and hang the femto in a pole? It seems awfully messy to get consumers involved in the middle of the value chain.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:12:46 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos


If it just building penetration, you can also get an amplifier which can take care of all the carriers unlike a femtocell which locks you into the one you bought the femto from.  This is another imperfect solution, but if you are a business does give you the freedom to have virtually any carrier.




paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:12:43 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos


Put down the razor!  Just kidding.

I know Craig lives in the valley so I would believe that the contrary is true in his case.  I know the installation is a lot more of a pain for an amplifier (you need a good place to put an antenna), but I can tell you in my office here as soon as I go outside I get 3G (and my office has a window).  When I am inside, I am on Edge.  And this is in the rural North Bay area, where we expect to see 4G next Century (okay decade).



WilliamofOccam 12/5/2012 | 5:12:43 PM
re: MWC 2011: Telstra CTO Slams Femtos



You are right but it appears to me that it is mostly poor coverage rather than building penetration which is the issue with the majority of cellular customers.

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