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Femtocell strategy - Towards deployment

24 июня 2009

With operators working out right now how to deploy femtocells into the market, Mobile  Europe hears how it could be the advent of mobile broadband and LTE that really nails the business case

Support for the concept of femtocells has been around for come years. But in 2009 the market has seen a real boost in the impetus of this technology.

In April, after little more than a year's work, the first standards for femtocells were introduced. The femtocell standard covers four main areas: network architecture; radio & interference aspects  which were both in fact completed in December 2008; and the newer areas of femtocell management / provisioning and security . In terms of network architecture, the crucial interface between potentially millions of femtocells and gateways in the network core has been called Iuh. This re-uses existing 3GPP UMTS protocols and extends them to support the needs of high-volume femtocell deployments.

The new standard has adopted the Broadband Forum's TR-069 management protocol which has been extended to incorporate a new data model for femtocells developed collaboratively by Femto Forum and Broadband Forum members and published by the Broadband Forum as Technical Report 196 (TR-196). TR-069 is already widely used in fixed broadband networks and in set-top boxes and will allow mobile operators to simplify deployment and enable automated remote provisioning, diagnostics-checking and software updates. The standard also uses a combination of security measures including IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange v2) and IPsec (IP Security) protocols to authenticate the operator and subscriber and then guarantee the privacy of the data exchanged.

"In just 12 months we've gone from initial discussions to publication of the world's first femtocell standard. Operators can now deploy femtocells in the knowledge that their vendors are working to the 3GPP standard." said Adrian Scrase, the 3GPP's Project Coordination Group Secretary. "Considerable effort was expended in 2008 with 3GPP meeting a very demanding schedule for the availability of 3GPP approved specifications."

Now the focus has moved on to standards around LTE. Work is taking place to incorporate femtocell technology in the 3GPP's release 9 standard, which will address LTE femtocells as well as support more advanced functionality for 3G femtocells.

LTE becomes a big deal for femtocells because they will ensure more users receive peak data rates more of the time, especially inside buildings where the vast majority of mobile broadband data is consumed and where the service quality is lower than outside.

An important quantity of new spectrum will be made available for LTE in the high frequency bands that do not penetrate buildings effectively but are ideal for femtocells. Where LTE networks are deployed solely in the scarcer and more valuable sub-1Ghz bands, where in-building penetration is better, femtocells will still be required to provide the extra network capacity needed to deliver on the promise of high data rates for all subscribers.

Improved Business Case
Femtocells also allow operators to create a more compelling mobile broadband business case.
"LTE can revolutionise mobile broadband - and Femtocells can play a role in helping it to deliver its potential" says Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Femto Forum. "By adopting femtocells operators can roll out a much better performing LTE network than they could with macro base stations alone and at a lower cost and with less risk. All these factors are crucial in the current uncertain economic environment."

New Services
Femtocells are also designed to power the kinds of next generation services that are expected to epitomise LTE. In the case of sharing media in the home, femtocells will not require broadband backhaul and will therefore not be limited by throughput restrictions on the network. Additionally femtocells ‘know' when a consumer is in the home thereby enabling presence-based applications that automatically trigger when a consumer enters, or leaves, the home.

New Rollout Strategies
Operators can also use femtocells to lower the cost, and therefore the risk, of LTE rollout by adopting a different strategy to that employed in 2G and 3G networks.

Although traditional macro base stations will still be essential to provide widespread surface coverage, operators can use both indoor and outdoor femtocells from the outset to carry substantial amounts of data traffic thereby realising major savings on backhaul and other associated capacity costs. Combining femtocells and macrocells in this way allows operators to build their LTE networks incrementally in line with demand and avoid the need to second guess user uptake.

These claims for the efficiency of femtocells receive a boost from the Signals Research Group (SRG), whose whitepaper on the business case for femtocells found tha femtocells could often doublethe customer lifetime value, and does not depend on any one critical factor or assumption in order to generate a favorable outcome. Further to this, the research demonstrated that femtocells can dramatically reduce the growing financial costs made by heavy mobile broadband data users on the mobile network.

SRG found that changing the perceived key assumptions associated with femtocells does not threaten the viability of the business case.  For example, increasing the wholesale cost of the femtocell by 50% (from $200 to $300) only reduces the basic value proposition for femtocells by a modest 16.3%, it claims. The study also found that the business case is not contingent upon a reduction in churn even though it is a likely outcome of a femtocell deployment and has already been proven in other similar FMC product deployments.  

At a time when there is a great deal of interest surrounding managing the costs associated with the growing uptake of ‘unlimited' mobile broadband data packages, the research found there to be considerable savings associated with offloading traffic via the femtocell - in particular for heavy data users. The study found that the cost savings associated with offloading as low as 1.4 GB of HSPA data or 1.3 GB of EV-DO Rev A data per month via the femtocell from a coverage-constrained macro cellular network would justify an operator offering a subscriber a free femtocell. For a small but rapidly growing segment of heavy wireless data users an operator can easily halve the cost of delivering wireless data at home or in the office by offloading traffic from the macro cellular network onto a femtocell.

"What shines through is that there is no single factor required for healthy financial returns. Cost savings, incremental revenue, and retention benefits enable femtocells to be deployed successfully with a wide variety of assumptions," J. Randolph Luening, vp  of Wireless Economics at SRG, says. "Instead, the business case is highly dependent on the attributes of the targeted customer segment and the specific customer proposition put forth by the operator."

Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Femto Forum, says the findings are significant. "To date we've seen femtocell deployments mostly focus on providing improved indoor coverage. However, the rapid take-up in mobile broadband services means we're going to see this start to change rapidly. If the mobile industry is serious about decisively moving beyond simple voice and text to providing a mobile broadband service to all its subscribers then femtocells must be a key consideration for managing the associated costs."


Источник: Mobile Europe

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