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Small cells

T-Mobile to Work With Wi-Fi for Indoor Coverage

While speculation circulates that T-Mobile US Inc. will use 3G femtocells this year, the operator says that it is committed to Wi-Fi for its indoor coverage strategy, it is piloting a 3G repeater and it has no plans to offer 3G femtos.

Light Reading Mobile reported recently that T-Mobile plans to offer 3G femtocells this year. (See T-Mobile to Join 3G Femto Fray .)

According to several industry sources, those plans involve using femtos to boost coverage in retail shops rather than offering a device for consumers to use in their homes. The sources also say that the devices will be provided by ip.access Ltd. , which already supplies GSM picocells to T-Mobile in the U.S.

But T-Mobile says our story is off the mark and that it has no such plans for femtocells.

"We are focused on driving robust in-home coverage this year to provide voice quality and rich broadband experiences," writes a T-Mobile spokesman in an e-mailed reply to LR Mobile. "We will accomplish this goal by applying Wi-Fi coverage to bolster in-home coverage and broadband. T-Mobile does not plan to use femtocells for either consumer or retail applications at this time."

Josh Lonn, T-Mobile’s director of product management, told Light Reading Mobile that the operator is always open to new customer premises equipment (CPE). He said that T-Mobile is running a small pilot with a 3G repeater product, but the operator doesn't have "any plans to launch."

In fact, Lonn said that Wi-Fi calling is "the only in-building solution we intend to market." T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling is based on unlicensed mobile access (UMA) -- or, generic access network (GAN) -- technology. Voice calls can be initiated on a mobile phone, which has a UMA client installed, and are routed over T-Mobile's core network. The technology doesn’t allow handover between 3G and UMA.

So why has T-Mobile backed Wi-Fi and not femtocells for indoor coverage? "We took a hard look," said Lonn. "We've got this great [UMA] infrastructure. And femto requires a lot of backend work. We've got the UMA system. ... Let's leverage that."

T-Mobile has more than 5 million enabled Wi-Fi calling handsets and it says it hosts 40 million Wi-Fi calls per month. (See T-Mobile Brings WiFi Calls to Android and Kineto Does Smart WiFi on Android 2.2.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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