Thursday 27 January 2011

Attocell: Smaller Femtocell

Over the last year Femtocells et al. have been slowly rebranded as Small cells and I agree that it is a much more generic term and easier for end users to understand.

Last year, around this time, magicJack announced a small USB Femtocell (a lot of Femto manufacturers disagree that its a Femtocell) that can help reduce the cost of call and just a few days back Picochip announced picoXcell, a USB form factor femtocell.

Yesterday, Ubiquisys announced the Attocell. As can be seen in the picture above, in mathematics, femto is 10^-15 and atto is 10^-18. I know that some of you may think that there is still scope for zeptocells and yoctocells but it may be difficult to see in the light of Attocells, what they can be.

A few years back, I blogged about how Femtocells can be used to steal the spectrum. Well, Attocell legally allows to do just that. The press release states the following:

The attocell connects to a user’s laptop via USB, which provides power and an internet connection. It then analyses the IP address and radio environment to determine which country it is in, and sets its 3G radio power accordingly to below the licenced level. In some countries its range will be just 5mm, in other countries, it could cover a whole room.

Like Ubiquisys femtocells, the attocell continuously monitors its radio environment to ensure that there is zero impact on existing mobile networks. This intelligence, combined with its tiny power output, is likely to make the attocell exempt from regulatory controls and the requirement for type approval.

In 5mm mode, the traveller simply lays the iPhone on top of the device and the phone connects automatically, just like a regular femtocell. Calls can be made using a Bluetooth or wired headset , or by using the iPhone’s speaker.

You can understand more by reading the official Attocell FAQ here.

It would be very interesting to see if any of the big operators support this device. Roaming revenues are big part of operators profit. Informa has predicted that this roaming revenue will keep rising. The roaming revenue comes from voice, sms as well as data. Some business users in one business trip frequently shell as much as a personal user would for a years contract. So its not really in operators interest to promote these devices.

On the other hand, small operators and MVNO may really like this as this can help them win more subscribers and can be the differentiators in the market.

Once more thing worth remembering is that since the arrival of Skype, the occasional and cautious mobile users have no hesitation on making VoIP calls and keeping friends, family and colleagues back home up to date with their status. The operators are aware of this and wouldnt mind the users instead using their mobiles via attocell.

Ubiquisys will show the Attocell in MWC in mid-Feb and we will have to wait and see the reaction.

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