An industry in the grip of femto fever?

Global femtocell deployments have more than doubled in the last nine months, suggesting a maturity of the technology and a growing acceptance of the potential business models.

James Middleton

June 22, 2010

3 Min Read
An industry in the grip of femto fever?
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Global femtocell deployments have more than doubled in the last nine months, suggesting a maturity of the technology and a growing acceptance of the potential business models.

According to research released by Informa Telecoms & Media on Tuesday, there are 16 service commitments including 13 confirmed commercial launches of femtocell technology worldwide at present. This compares to eight femtocell service commitments and six commercial launches in November 2009.

In the past quarter alone, Vodafone Spain, AT&T, Softbank and KDDI have commercially launched femtocell services, with Vodafone’s move marking a second deployment in a European market after the launch of its UK ‘Sure Signal’ service. learned on Monday that Vodafone also has a deployment of femto technology covering public places such as shopping malls in Qatar, and is also looking at using the technology in an outdoor metro coverage capacity.

During a briefing with a cross section of the femto ecosystem on Monday, including Ubiquisys, Picochip, Airvana, ip.access, Alcatel-Lucent and of course the Femto Forum, found that the focus now is very much on the evolution of femtocells beyond the home environment.

The femto crowd recently announced femtocell standard specifications with both the 3GPP2 and WiMAX Forum, allowing the technology to cover all the bases. As a result, Informa expects the femtocell market to experience significant growth over the next few years, reaching just under 49 million femtocell access points deployed in the market by 2014 and 114 million mobile users accessing mobile networks through femtocells during that year. Healthy growth is anticipated going forward, with femtocell unit sales reaching 25 million in 2014 alone.

“The femtocell market is experiencing maturity with many of the largest operators in Asia, North America and Europe now offering services. Global operator demand for femtocells is undeniable and recent femtocell standards milestones can only enhance this situation further. As mobile data traffic continues to rocket, femtocells look set to become a vital component of next generation mobile broadband deployments and this is reflected in the increasing interest in enterprise, metropolitan and LTE models,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst at Informa.

During the briefing, data offload emerged as a main driver for femto adoption by the operator. AT&T has said that it is seeing quite a lot of data usage over its femtocell deployment, with ip.access’s Andy Tiller speculating that the technology allows lower end handsets without wifi to be used as data terminals.

According to a white paper released by the Femto Forum this week, data offload has become a key issue because the vast majority of rapidly growing data traffic originates indoors where mobile networks are least effective. Informa estimates that 81 per cent of this data originates from homes and offices where it could frequently be offloaded on to local broadband connections, while the Forum paper posits that one indoor user uses the same capacity as ten outdoor users, significantly impacting the number of users that can be supported in a cell.

Beyond the economics of data traffic offload of the radio access network (RAN) and the backhaul network, the Forum claims that the cost of data delivery can be further reduced by offloading the growing level of smart phone signalling traffic managed by the radio network controller (RNC). And since the femtocell is an extension of the 3G/4G network, revenue-generating traffic remains on operator network, the Forum claims.

“The mobile data boom – and the increased demand on capacity it has led to – is the biggest challenge currently facing mobile networks,” said Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum. “Femtocells represent the natural solution for offloading this data. They allow mobile operators to significantly improve the mobile broadband experience as well as their other services without incurring the costs that macro upgrades would require.”



About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of | Follow him @telecomsjames

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