Consumer indoor coverage technology, femtocells, get an enterprise-grade makeover
Femtocells – tiny base-stations designed to boost indoor coverage for consumers – could launch in the enterprise, with a new product from Ubiquisys.
A femtocells is a small low-power 3G base station, that handles calls and data from 3G phones, but sits inside a building and connects to the cellular network over wired broadband, thus easing the load on big “macro” cells outside the building, and giving the user better coverage indoors.
These devices have yet to be properly launched anywhere, although Sprint in the US sells a CDMA – not 3G – femtocell for voice calls only, and Softbank is holding trials in Japan. Vendors have so far been offering products designed for consumers (Ubuiqusys’ ZoneGate has been put into devices that Netgear and others are pitching to operators), but Ubiquisys will take a different tack with its G3 device, to be shown this week at the Femtocells World Summit in London.
The G3 supports up to 16 users and multiple devices can be co-ordinated to bring phone signals inside large offices where coverage is sparse. The device is made possible by a new femtocell chip, the Aquillo from Percello, and will be available in the Autumn.
The G3 supports the HSPA+ 3G standard, and can connect devices at up to 21.6Mbps down and 5.7Mbps up from devices connected to it. It includes cognitive radio technology, which reduces interference problems by adapting to radio signals around it.
The device also supports a co-ordination technology which Ubiquisys calls “FemtoMesh”. This is not an actual wireless mesh network, as all nodes are connected to the office LAN and thence to the cellular network. Instead it is a system to handle co-ordinate signal strengths, and handover client devices between the femtos in the office, explained Ubiquisys’ vice president of marketing, Keith Day.
The device also allows the IT administrator to monitor and control the wireless network (although coverage is completely automatic) and watch what devices are connected, and what performance they are getting.
Despite operators’ hesitation so far, the programme of this week’s World Summit includes presentations from more of them than previous years, including Vodafone, AT&T,BT, Virgin, T-Mobile, Telecom Italia and Softbank.
“This year, the agenda is dominated by operators” said Day. “I’m hoping that some of them are going to say something concrete about their plans. What the industry needs is an operator that does the full promotional package on a femtocell.” With poor indoor coverage, there should be high demand for such a service, he said, and operators could offer free data connections at home without overloading the macro cells of their network: “That’s a way of getting poeple started on the 3G data experience.”
Meanwhile, enterprise femtos could be a good market as operators have trouble serving customers in small locations with poor indoor coverage: “If you have ten to 100 people, it is rarely cost effective to put in a picocell or a DAS [distributed antenna system]. Femtos take the cost of radio engineering out as these things can be self installed.”
Although initially launched for the business market, the G3 will eventually replace the earlier models in Ubiquisys’ consumer range, giving better performance across the board, said Day.