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Move closer: mobile operators take the base station home

11 февраля 2011

Femtocells finally come of age as growing mobile data usage forces telcos to get nearer to end-users.

For several years the femtocell was a solution to a problem that did not really exist.

The word 'femtocell' first came to the attention of the mainstream telecoms press at Mobile World Congress 2007 (or 3GSM, as it was then). But femtocells failed to capture the imagination for some time: we liked the technology, but the business models were not fully formed and telecoms operators were simply not committing to rollouts.

But the smartphone revolution changed all that. As demand for mobile data grew, operators began to look for solutions to alleviate the pressure on their networks. Enter the femtocell.

As of December 2010 18 operators in 12 countries had launched commercial femtocell services, according to a report compiled by Informa Telecoms & Media for the Femto Forum. The most recent launches came from Moldova's Moldtelecom in November and a business offering from T-Mobile in the U.K. in October.

"We will see quite a few more get announced," at, and in the run-up to, Mobile World Congress 2011, predicted Doug Pulley, CTO of U.K.-based semiconductor company Picochip ahead of next week's event.

Picochip has good reason to be optimistic. In the second half of last year six operators - Vodafone Australia, Avea in Turkey, the UAE's Du, and Taiwanese operators Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile and Far EasTone – committed to launching services in 2011, taking the number of operator commitments up to 30. And according to Informa, the number of femtocell access points deployed in the market will reach just under 49 million by 2014, up from 1.7 million in Q4 2010; the analyst firm puts unit sales for 2014 alone at 25 million.

The U.K.'s femtocell makers share this optimism.

"The femtocell market has come of age... The industry is getting up to the 2 million [femtocell shipments] per-year mark – next year we expect to be shipping millions on our own," Keith Day, vice president of marketing at Ubiquisys, told Total Telecom recently.

"Consumer resistance [to femtocells] was right in the past – they cost $200 and operators offered no concession," he noted. "But now prices are much lower and more offers are coming along."

Rival company ip.access agrees, adding that as some operators launch, others will be compelled to follow to avoid being left behind.

"[There will be] A lot more competitive pressure in 2011. I think the technology is now ready to really scale," said Andy Tiller, SVP product management and marketing at ip.access,

"In 2011 we'll see a lot more attractive price points... and free femtocell offers," such as free calls and data usage when the user is connected to their home base station, he added. For example, Tiller predicts that mobile data caps will not apply when users access the Internet via a femtocell, as operators seek to ease the strain on their macro networks.

"The way to solve [massive data traffic growth] is to have smaller cells," insisted Picochip's Pulley.

Advanced mobile technologies such as LTE will help the situation, but will not be a "magic bullet", he explained. LTE will boost throughput, but ultimately "you can only signal so fast," Pulley said. "You have to move nearer to the subscriber."

Источник: Total Telecom

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