In the last year alone femtocells has come a long way and as we speak the technology is in the process of getting deployed at many places. There is no doubt that mobile operators have moved from laboratory tests and technical trials to large-scale commercial pilots of femtocells. The most public of these has been Softbank Mobile in Japan that is using around 10,000 femtocells to test the technical and commercial feasibility of the technology.
There are so many multinational operators who are conducting trials as above with the objective of launching commercial pilots during Q1/2009.
However this opportunity is reliant upon mobile operators developing and marketing a proposition that will have obvious appeal to the consumer.
Even now in some countries the mobile operators struggle to understand what femtocell proposition will work in their market? They understand the business case, but the key issue of how to persuade a customer to acquire and install a femtocell remains unsolved in many regions. This could be explained best by taking the example of Germany where cellphone subscribers are accustomed to using advantageous 'home-zone' tariffs that use the normal cellular network to determine when the subscriber is making calls from their home. Attempting to undermine this attractive proposition with a femtocell-based solution could be difficult. However places where comprehensive 3G coverage is compromised it is possibly providing the subscriber with their own femtocell, or personal 'home cell which could eventually prove to be particularly attractive for the customer.
I believe the key challenge is the consumer proposition and the future success depends on mobile operators and their ability to package their femtocell propositions appropriately for the various market segments.
I always ask the question whether standalone femtocells are likely to be short-lived. ip.access claims it is already seeing demand for femtocell modules to be integrated into other devices, such as WiFi home hubs and set-top boxes, etc.
Moving aggresively into the direction of making the femtocell technology a real success, major global operators are now backing the vision of taking femtocells out of homes and offices into the wider environment as part of their Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployment. I think this is a smart move as you cannot be relying completely on the “home only” concept to move femtocells in the vicinity of huge success. At the LTE World Summit in London, China Mobile, T-Mobile and Telus all expressed support for this idea that first was advanced by Vodafone earlier this year. Femtocell specialist picoChip gave reality to this concept by announcing further details of what is claimed to be the industry's first complete LTE picocell and femtocell reference designs. These new platforms will enable high capacity networks for metro, hot-zone and rural deployments. According to the picoChip view of LTE, all deployments will consist of small femtocell base stations.
I hope you agree that with femtocell technology reaching commercial maturity, attention is now switching to developing application services and operator business models that will maximize the technology benefits which will eventually lead to a success story for femtocells.