Thursday 3 July 2008

Rumors: Femtocells being rolled out from this month

Sprint's indoor coverage-extending femtocell device, Airave, will be rolled out nationwide on July 15 (USA) according to early reports. Airave is a device which connects to any cable modem or DSL router with an open port, and generates a signal to which mobile phones can connect. Airave allows up to three simultaneous voice connections to be made within a 5,000 square foot coverage area.

Additionally, Airave comes with a 20-foot long antenna (cant be right) that must be stationed near a window so its onboard GPS receiver can connect. This is necessary for the device to function because the GPS determines if it is stationed within Sprint-licensed territory. If this device is used in an area that does not offer some degree of native Sprint coverage, it will not function.

This is a bold move from Sprint considering this another story from Unstrung titled, "Operators Feel Femto Frustration":

A lack of standards, unresolved technical issues, and unclear business cases are conspiring to push operator plans for commercial femtocell launches into next year. That’s the message from major mobile operators at the recent Femtocell Europe 2008 conference. While operators are still enticed by the potential for cost savings, capacity increases, and new service revenues that the mini home base stations promise, they gave a realistic account of their own plans for femtocells here, and they said they anticipate commercial deployments in the market some time in 2009 .

The lack of a definitive standard for femtocells is a sticking point for operators and has even caused some to postpone their vendor selections. SFR , for one, has delayed its femtocell RFQ (request for quotation) because the standards are not yet defined.

While equipment suppliers have taken a big step recently to agree on a framework for defining a femtocell standard -- thanks to vendor compromises and the Femto Forum Ltd. facilitating a consensus -- the hard work to hash out a standard at the 3GPP is just beginning.
T-Mobile International AG ’s head of RAN strategy, Zhongrong Liu, said the femtocell standardization process was hampered by “lack of resource or focus from big vendors,” and he urged them to send more delegates to the 3GPP working groups.

O2 (UK) Ltd. has found in recent femtocell tests that the devices were not hitting HSDPA data speeds. Chris Fenton, director of convergence policy at O2, said that the femtocells the operator tested recently got to just 700 kbit/s on the downlink. “There is some work to do to get us to the 3.6 Mbit/s and 7.2 Mbit/s” he said. “We’re testing early boxes, though -- I think it’s really close, so that’s OK.”

Operators admit that they are not yet certain of what the service proposition for home base stations should be or how they’ll make money from the devices. Some look to femtocells simply to improve indoor coverage, which could have a big effect on churn. AT&T’s Gordon Mansfield, director of radio access network planning, said that poor coverage is the number one cause of churn. “In the U.S. market, we’ve got these challenges,” he said.

Mansfield said that early femto deployments would be aimed at improving indoor coverage and that future deployments could be aimed at “integrating three screens in the home,” or, in other words, tying the mobile phone into consumers’ home networks.

Another article in Unstrung last month had an interview with Vodafone visionary on how Vodafone dreams of Metro Femto:

Femtocells could one day proliferate in metropolitan areas at bus stops, on lamp posts, or on buildings, if Vodafone Group plc's vision for a hotspot deployment of femto access points becomes reality. The giant mobile operator's head of new technologies and innovation, Kenny Graham, proposed taking the mini home base stations out of the home/office and onto the streets at the Femtocells Europe 2008 conference in London Wednesday morning. Graham (a.k.a. the Vodafone Visionary) reckons the same attributes that make femtocells ideal for deployment in homes and offices -– localized coverage, improved performance, self-configuration, self-optimization, and low cost -– can be of use outside, too. He dubbed this kind of deployment a “metrozone.”

Meanwhile operators are working hard to make sure the cost of Femtocell hits rock bottom:

Telecoms operators are pushing to get the cost of a 3G femtocell in the home down to €40 – well below the current $99 (€63) target. "For the femtocell to be economically viable compared with the macrocells, it has to be less than €40 in the total cost of ownership per access point," said Thierry Berthouloux, head of network evolution at French mobile phone operator SFR, speaking at the European Femtocell conference. "It is not €100, that is far to expensive, and that is really the challenge," said Berthouloux.

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