Thursday, August 24, 2006

femtocells - small cellular base stations

By Stuart Corner
Thursday, 24 August 2006
When McDonalds started installing WiFi hotspots in its restaurants it provoked concerns about exposing its customers to radiation. That could be nothing compared to what will happen when the much maligned cellular base stations start appearing as 'femtocells' in residential and corporate environments.
According to ABI Research, in the near future, femtocells - small cellular base stations designed for use in residential or corporate environments - will be adopted by mobile operators with great enthusiasm. It forecasts that, by 2011 there will be 102 million users of femtocell products on 32 million access points worldwide.

The research company says operators will embrace femtocells because of "greater network efficiency, reduced churn, better in-building wireless coverage and the abilities to shape subscriber data usage patterns and to build platforms upon which fixed-mobile convergence services can be realised."

"Femtocells offer many benefits to operators," according to principal analyst Stuart Carlaw. "From a technological standpoint, their better in-building coverage for technologies such as WCDMA and HSDPA is an incredibly important aspect of service delivery. From a strategic and financial standpoint, the routing of traffic through the IP network significantly enhances network quality and capacity, and reduces the opex that carriers expend on backhaul."

The most interesting characteristic of femtocells, according to Carlaw, is that they can form the basis of a viable option for realising converged fixed-mobile services. "They give operators a cost-effective way to support fixed-mobile substitution, as well as a platform in the home upon which additional features such as Wi-Fi and IPTV can be layered."

However, Carlaw adds a note of caution: "This is a very nascent market and as such there is a pressing need for some standardisation, or at least a common recognition of what a femtocell's minimum requirements should be."

The development of femtocells could also open up a new front in what many see as a looming battle between operators of WiMAX and cellular technologies.

In July, UK chip maker, picoChip, and Korea Telecom formed a partnership to develop home-base stations, otherwise know as 'femtocells' conforming to the mobile WiMAX standard IEEE 802.16e-2005 and its Korean variant, WiBro, which KT is now using to launch a commercial network in Korea.

According to picoChip, "By enabling cost-effective deployment [femtocells] allow carriers to complete with UMA or voice-over-WiFi."

picoChip noted that the femtocell concept was being recognised in the 3G community, but said that, as the carrier most advanced in deploying WiBro, KT was the first to develop such a program for WiMAX. "WiBro, the South Korean wireless telecommunications standard, is compatible with WiMAX 802.16e-2005 (mobile WiMAX), and aims to be the technology that delivers personal broadband to consumers around the globe."