Small cells

Who Makes What: Femtocells

Femtocells promise to improve indoor cellular coverage, increase network capacity, and integrate mobile handsets into home networking environments, all of which will save costs, reduce churn, and increase service revenues from new mobile data services.

That's a lot to expect from a little base station.

The femtocell proposition certainly sounds compelling and operators are now testing the ambitious assumptions of the fledgling femto market. The technology has even attracted the notice of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which got involved in 2007 through a strategic investment in U.K. femto startup Ubiquisys Ltd. (See In Focus: Femtocells, Google Invests in 3G Startup, and UbiquiSys Gets Google Boost.)

The only commercial services in operation so far are from Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) in the U.S. and StarHub in Singapore. Japan's SoftBank Corp. is next in line for a commercial launch since it announced plans for a service to start in the first quarter of 2009. (See Sprint Goes Femto, StarHub Launches 3G Femto Service, NEC, Ubiquisys Win Softbank Femto Deal, and Japanese Femto Rules.)

News of equipment contract awards started to trickle in at the end of 2008. Softbank announced that it will deploy NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701)'s solution, which incorporates the femtocell from Ubiquisys. And Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) announced that it has won a deal with Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd. (NYSE: CHT) in Taiwan. Unstrung also exclusively reported that NEC and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. won a tender for enterprise femtocells at Orange (NYSE: FTE)'s Orange. (See Chunghwa Femto Tender, Chunghwa Picks AlcaLu Femto, and Huawei, NEC Score Orange Femtocell Deal.)

In the U.S., Sprint won't be alone for long with its CDMA indoor coverage service as the femto scene heats up in 2009. Verizon has told Unstrung that it could have a femto product on the market in 2009, and AT&T has said that it expects to launch a commercial femto service in the second quarter of 2009. (See Verizon Eyes Femtos for 2009, AT&T Targets Q2 Femto Launch, AT&T the Latest to Jump on the Femto Wagon, Cisco, ip.access Prep Femto Combo, and Femtocells Face Uncertain Future in US.)

But most commercial deployments elsewhere are not scheduled to launch until 2010 or later, according to the Heavy Reading operator survey, "Femtocell Deployment and Market Perception Study." (See 2010: Year of the Femto and Femtocells & Notspots: Coverage Is King.)

Among the 111 responses from the 79 operators surveyed, 54 percent said that they planned to launch services between the second half of 2009 and the end of 2010, and 33 percent said their commercial femtocell launches were scheduled for 2011 or later.

Those timescales indicate that operators still have kinks to iron out in their femto strategies, from the business case to technical issues like interference management, standardization, service provisioning, and OSS/BSS integration. (See Operators Feel Femto Frustration, SFR’s Femto Riposte, and Femtos Turn to DSL for Provisioning Smarts .)

The survey found that operators are most concerned about the lack of standards and femtocell interference with the macro network.

The femto community worked hard to resolve the standardization issue in 2008, and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) finalized the first batch of specifications for the Home Node B (that is, UMTS femtocell) at a meeting in December 2008. Products incorporating the new standards are expected to hit the market by the end of 2009. (See Vendors Unite on Femtocell Architecture and 3GPP Picks Femtocell Standard.)

As for the interference concerns, the Femto Forum has completed a major research project that identified several different interference mitigation techniques that operators can use to minimize femto interference with the macro network when femtocells are deployed in the same radio channel, or carrier. The Forum will contribute this work to standards bodies to ensure standard approaches to interference management. (See Femto Forum Studies Interference and Femto Firms Counter Interference Flak.)

There is also not a clear answer to why operators should deploy femtocells, as business cases remain elusive. For now, the most popular reason to launch a femto service is to improve indoor coverage. But there are other reasons that a business case could be built on, such as increasing network capacity, reducing backhaul costs, and the potential for new revenues from home networking and mobile data services.

Even though technical issues and business case quandaries persist, many operators are forging ahead and putting femtos through their paces. Here are some highlights of operator femtocell projects that Unstrung has covered recently:

Next Page: Femtocell Access Points

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desicommguy 12/5/2012 | 4:15:04 PM
re: Who Makes What: Femtocells Hi Michelle,
In the Femtogateway section you should probably change NextPoint to Genband. Also, can you please let me know, how I can send you information about some additions to your list.
Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:15:03 PM
re: Who Makes What: Femtocells Hi Desicommguy,
Good point about NextPoint.
You can send the info to [email protected] or [email protected]

rduncan 12/5/2012 | 4:14:34 PM
re: Who Makes What: Femtocells I appreciate your exceptional, ongoing reporting!

My contribution to track the evolution and deployment of this important, new technology is:
(a) Femtocell Scorecard
(an independent assessment of product attributes
and actual, market success)
(b) Femtocell Trials and Deployments
(tracking how Femtocells are being used,
and which type of products are being deployed)

I hope that you find this info useful as we follow the market and technical evolution of the mobile radio network.

Robert Duncan
Director of Mobile Product Planning
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