Femtocells will be key to next-gen networks

22 Jun 2010

Femtocells – self-contained mini mobile networks in homes and offices – are tipped to become a vital component of next-generation mobile broadband networks and already there have been 13 commercial launches in the most recent quarter.

According to new research from Informa Telecoms & Media, femtocell technology is continuing to mature with several tier-one operators deploying the technology using a variety of business models.

There are currently 16 service commitments, including 13 confirmed commercial launches and several ongoing trials, while completed trials are now progressing into deployment plans for several mobile operators. This contrasts with 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. Vodafone’s decision to roll out femtocells in a second European market illustrates the success of their UK ‘Sure Signal’ service which has been heavily promoted.

AT&T became the first US operator to announce a nationwide 3G femtocell rollout and Softbank became the first operator to offer both free femtocells and free DSL backhaul.

Major progress has also been made in the field of femtocell standards with 3GPP2 and WiMAX Forum, both announcing specifications. Standardised UMTS femtocell equipment recently underwent interoperability testing in the world’s first femtocell plugfest.

Femtocell market maturity

“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,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“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,” Mavrakis said.

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 67 vendors and 56 mobile operators representing 1.4 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, across multiple wireless technologies (WiMAX, UMTS and CDMA) and accounts for 27pc of total mobile subscribers worldwide.

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