The hype surrounding the mass deployment of femtocells has been doused with cold water by a new study into the need for handset vendors to quickly transform their devices to support the technology. According to the report, published by Research & Markets (R&M), the femtocell industry is basing its optimism on the notion that subscribers will use their cell phones differently when in range of femtocells. There will be different applications and behavioural patterns when people are at home--perhaps content backups, podcasts or even advertiser-sponsored TV programming. The mobile phone may need to be linked to the TV, PC, HiFi or other items of domestic technology, claims R&M.
However, the report states that, while handsets will work with femtocells, they are not optimised to support this new 'in home' activity. The phone needs to be aware of the femtocell, ideally both in the radio and the application platform. But changing how the handset industry approaches this challenge could take 2-3 years--given that it takes this amount of time to implement new handset architecture, and around the same time before new cell phone technology reaches a broad range of devices.
R&M identified other issues that the femtocell industry should be aware of:
- In dense deployments of femtocells, handsets can spend too much time and power attempting to connect at locations that are not their own "home zone."
- The new 3GPP Release 8 specifications contain various modifications to enable handsets to work better with femtocells, but the first R8-compliant phones will likely be shipped at the end of 2010.
- The usage of handsets on femtocells may identify unexpected side-effects, relating to faster/cheaper data connections. This may impact elements of design such as memory allocation and power management.
- Various suggestions have been made for ‘femto-zone' services--but there is no standardised way for handset applications to know they are attached to a femtocell.
However, the study also pointed to some new opportunities that femtocells could have for operators, namely the generation of new revenue streams from advertisers and other third parties by enabling the provision of 'at home' services via femtocells.
R&M claimed that there could be a demand for at least 48 million femto-aware handsets to be sold to femtocell owners in 2013. However, with more optimistic forecasts, and especially if shared femtocell models become popular, there could potentially be a demand for up to 300 million femto-aware handsets per year in 2013.
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