One idea is to use LTE initially as an access point rather than a full standalone network, which would bypass all the difficulties and delays that may happen in developing the core network for this technology. Here femtocells, picocells or GAN dual mode solutions could help operators to achieve this goal. As well as the time to market advantage, operators will also have a good opportunity to test LTE access networks and their business case for it before engaging in any wide scale network rollouts. This will obviously help them to minimize risks while giving them enough time to get their networks more stable and ready for the challenge.
Deploying LTE through femtocells is now an industry accepted solution as mobile operators can incrementally add capacity to their networks where it is most needed. This is expected to be in the home environment where 60% of communication is expected to take place during 2013. Instead of performing ‘forklift’ upgrades for their macrocell networks, mobile operators can test the LTE business case by initially launching LTE femtocell networks. Overall capex is expected to be much less than for a macrocell network – but on the other hand, LTE femtocells will only create localized coverage and capacity hotspots for a limited group of end users.
Several chipset and hardware platform manufacturers have launched products for LTE femtocells, including Picochip and Agilent. The upcoming 3GPP femtocell standard is expected to provide compatibility for LTE femtocells and mobile operators are expected to announce their LTE strategies in 2009. Informa Telecoms & Media expects that the majority of mobile operators – especially those that have invested heavily in 3G – will incorporate femtocells in their LTE strategies either for business case validation or for selective, incremental capacity upgrades for their mobile networks.