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3G/HSPA

Telefónica O2 Preps New Femto Trial

For those femtocell vendors that feel they missed out on Telefónica Europe plc (O2) 's trial earlier this year, it looks like another chance to participate is coming their way because the operator is getting ready to start a new customer trial of the home base stations early next year, Unstrung has learned.

Telefónica O2 is one of the pan-European operators that has been leading the charge into the femtocell opportunity and testing whether the business case for 3G home access points and services really stacks up.

The operator has already tried out femto network equipment earlier this year from NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), which incorporates the ZoneGate femto access point from Ubiquisys Ltd. , as well as a femtocell solution from ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763). (See O2 Trials Femtocells, Vodafone, O2 Test Femtocells, NEC, Ubiquisys Team, Femtocell Startup Pockets $25M, UbiquiSys Gets Google Boost, and NEC, Ubiquisys Win Softbank Femto Deal.)

Now, the operator is preparing to advance its femtocell program and move on to a new phase of equipment testing and customer experience evaluation, Unstrung understands.

Ubiquisys, which took part in Telefónica O2's trial this year, could not comment on the operator's previous trial or on the plans for a new trial. But the vendor's vice president of marketing Keith Day says that in general such a phased approach would not be unexpected and would be typical of the way operators evaluate new technologies and products.

"With lab trials, internal [tests], commercial pilots... You would expect separate discreet stages," says Day.

When Telefónica O2 announced the first femto trial back in February, it said it aimed for a possible commercial launch in early 2009. That timeline has clearly slipped.

But with a new trial set to start next year, the operator's apparently revised plan fits with industry expectations that early commercial femtocell launches will start to ramp up in 2010, as revealed in the recent Heavy Reading survey, "Femtocell Deployment and Market Perception Study." (See Heavy Reading Reveals Femtocell Survey Results and 2010: Year of the Femto.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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