Small cells

T-Mobile to Join 3G Femto Fray

T-Mobile US Inc. plans to offer 3G femtocells this year, Light Reading Mobile has learned.

According to an operator spokesman, the carrier will have 3G femtocells as part of its product portfolio in 2011. The spokesman could neither provide a time frame for a market launch nor name the equipment suppliers because the operator is still in the process of selecting vendors.

Why this matters
T-Mobile is the last of the big U.S. mobile operators to offer 3G femtos. Rivals AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless already offer the home base stations to improve customers' indoor voice coverage. Another launch by a large US operator would be good news for the young femtocell industry, signaling further operator acceptance of this coverage boosting tool. (See Femto Watch: Verizon Launches 3G Femto , CTIA 2010: AT&T Femtos Go Commercial in April, Where Is the Sprint 3G Femtocell? and More 3G Femtos Coming to the US.)

A U.S. femto launch could also indicate a shift in T-Mobile's attitude to femtocells, depending on how large the operator's plans are. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year, Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) (T-Mobile's parent) CTO Oliver Baujard told Light Reading Mobile that the operator had no mass-market plans for femtocells. (See Orange, T-Mobile Go Slow on Femtos .)

It's possible that T-Mobile has been holding out for a femto access point that will support its HSPA+ 21Mbit/s network. Commercially deployed UMTS femtos, like AT&T's 3G Microcell, support up to 7.2Mbit/s and are not software upgradeable to HSPA+. It is expected that HSPA+ femtos will be available sometime this year. (See T-Mobile's HSPA+ Rivals Clearwire, US LTE Speeds, T-Mobile HSPA+ Smartphone Due in September , T-Mobile Leaves AT&T in Its HSPA+ Dust , T-Mobile Hangs Growth Hopes on HSPA+ in US and MWC 2010: T-Mob's 3G Speed Race.)

And plans for a future launch must mean that competition is fierce among femto vendors to win the T-Mobile deal in the U.S. So, who is likely to be in the frame? ip.access Ltd. , for one. The U.K. femto firm supplies AT&T's 3G Microcell with partner Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and with chipsets from Picochip , and it counts T-Mobile USA as its largest customer for GSM picocells.

Other potential suppliers include Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Ubiquisys Ltd. , in which T-Mobile Venture Fund is a strategic investor.

For More
T-Mobile has been active in femtocells for some time with early trials as well as investments in U.K. femto company Ubiquisys and femto chipset startup Percello Ltd. , which was recently acquired by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM).

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:15:13 PM
re: T-Mobile to Join 3G Femto Fray

If I was buying a femto unless you guaranteed me an upgrade to 4G, I would definitely wait.



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