Femtocells now outnumber conventional cell masts in US

22 Oct 2010

Femtocells now outnumber conventional outdoor cell sites in the United States, marking a major milestone in the evolution of mobile networks, according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s new quarterly market status report.

Conservative estimates suggest there are 350,000 femtocells and around 256,000 macrocells in the US. Furthermore, by March 2011, there are expected to be at least twice as many femtocells as macrocells in the US. Over the past quarter, the total number of global femtocell deployments has increased to 17 alongside six further commitments.

Since June, the femtocell market has also seen a number of important new operator deployments, including Telefónica’s Spanish mobile arm, Movistar, Everything Everywhere (the UK Orange/T-Mobile joint venture) and Vodafone Greece, which marks the fourth territory where the operator has rolled out the technology.

Over the same period, several operators that are already offering femtocell services have started offering them for free, or at highly discounted rates, as a customer retention measure signifying that the consumer proposition is still evolving.

“We are now starting to see practical evidence that femtocells are irrevocably changing the traditional macrocell culture of mobile networks,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

Millions of femtocells predicts

“Whereas today’s networks consist of a few thousand cells, in the future there will be millions – this will have a massive impact on mobile broadband capacity at a time when networks are under increasing strain.”

“Over the past quarter, we’ve also seen more major operators roll out the technology and perhaps more importantly an evolution in the femtocell consumer proposition. Three months ago, only one operator was giving away free femtocells, now there are several showing that femtocells are becoming an important customer retention tool.”

Other recent developments include the publication of the first LTE application programming interfaces (APIs) for femtocells, which will help ensure that device manufacturers can cost effectively source semiconductor components from multiple manufacturers, thereby making the market more competitive.

Standards development continues to progress, with the announcement of the femtocell industry’s second plugfest, which is set to take place early in 2011.

Informa Telecoms & Media expects the femtocell market to experience significant growth over the next few years, reaching just under 49 million femtocell access points (FAP) in the market by 2014 and 114 million mobile users accessing mobile networks through femtocells during that year.

Healthy growth is anticipated throughout the forecast period, with femtocell unit sales reaching 25 million in 2014 alone.

The expansion of the femtocell industry is reflected in the growing membership of the Femto Forum, the femtocell industry association, which now includes 77 vendors and 58 mobile operators representing more than 1.5 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, across multiple wireless technologies (WiMAX, UMTS and CDMA) and accounts for 33pc of total mobile subscribers worldwide.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years