Femtocell Rollout Speeds Up

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

As the Femtocells World Summit takes place in London, a new analyst report reveals that deployments of the technology have doubled in the past nine months

A new report from Informa Telecoms & Media has revealed that femtocells are at last making an impact in the market, after deployments doubled in the past nine months.

The news will have made happy reading for the attendees at the femtocell industry’s third annual event, the Femtocells World Summit in London. Femtocells use wired broadband connections to connect to the phone network, and provide indoor coverage for mobile phones.

The Informa study found that more and more tier-one operators are deploying femtocells using a variety of business models. As of November last year, there had been only eight femtocell service commitments and six commercial launches around the world. Now there are currently 16 service commitments, including 13 confirmed commercial launches and several ongoing trials.

Increasing Deployments

Informa cited the commerical launches of femtocell services in the last quarter alone by mobile operators such as Vodafone Spain, AT&T in the US, and Softbank and KDDI and in Japan.

“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,” said the analyst group. “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.”

“The femtocell market is experiencing maturity with many of the largest operators in Asia, North America and Europe now offering services,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“Global operator demand for femtocells is undeniable and recent femtocell standards milestones can only enhance this situation further,” he added. “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.”

Informa also pointed out that ‘major progress’ had been made in the field of femtocell standards with 3GPP2 and WiMAX Forum both announcing specifications. Also, standardised UMTS femtocell equipment recently underwent interoperability testing in the world’s first femtocell plugfest.

Market Growth

Looking forward, Informa expects the femtocell market to experience significant growth over the next few years. It believes that there will be just under 49 million femtocell access points (FAP) in the market by 2014.

And this will mean that 114 million mobile users will access their mobile networks through femtocells during that year.

The industry is also expected to see healthy growth throughout the forecast period, with femtocell unit sales reaching 25 million in 2014 alone.

Vodafone Sure Signal

In the UK, Vodafone was the first to launch a commerical offering. However, it was recently chastised by the advertising regulator over an advert claim about its Sure Signal femtocell, which it launched back in June 2009. In January this year Vodafone renamed the femtocell as Sure Signal, and also dramatically cut the price of the device to just £50, from £160.

Speaking to eWEEK Europe UK, Vodafone UK would not reveal actual sales figures of the SureSignal device.

“That said, we have had a fantastic response from our customers for have brought the device because they live in bad coverage areas such as flats, or for geographic reasons,” said a Vodafone spokeswoman.

Femtocells essentially look like a home router, but are designed to give better indoor coverage of 3G mobile phone signals, which can be problematic to obtain when inside the office or home. Last October for example, a survey of over 200 UK mobile users from wireless communications expert ADC revealed that 27.6 percent of people had stated that their work had suffered due to poor mobile phone reception indoors.

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