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Small cells

Netgear Feels Out Femto

Major SOHO WiFi equipment provider Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) could be the next large vendor in the home base station game, Unstrung has learnt.

The company hasn't made any formal announcement of its intention to move into this emerging market. Industry sources, however, have pointed out to Unstrung that the company has been more visible on the topic at industry conferences and events. Netgear's CEO, Patrick Lo, is speaking on a femtocell panel in London next week, and the company is one of the platinum sponsors of a home base station conference next month.

The suggestion is that Netgear could make its move into this market soon. "It makes a lot of sense," says Gabriel Brown, chief analyst of Unstrung Insider, noting Netgear's established position in the wired and wireless home router niche.

In fact, one industry source tells us that the company is already planning to resell home base stations from a startup vendor. "If the market hits volume they either buy... or they do their own design," he predicts.

The firm's competition in this new field includes a number of startups and major firms, from Airvana Inc. to Samsung Corp. Carriers considering this technology are said to include Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD).

(See Sprint Goes Femto With WiMax.) In case you missed the memo, a home base station -- or femtocell -- is a low-cost, low-power 3G cellular radio system that users can put in their dwellings to boost bandwidth and coverage and enable new applications such as fixed/mobile convergence in the home. Such mini-base stations have become more interesting to vendors as operators have started to take the devices more seriously, both as an alternative to WiFi hotspots or as a complementary technology.

Netgear hasn't yet responded to our questions about its femtoplans.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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