Femtocells and the consumer proposition - Part 2

Last November I wrote about the importance of mobile operators developing a marketing proposition for residential femtocells that would have obvious appeal to the consumer. While operator interest in this technology continues unabated, there would seem to be little evidence of any attempt to educate the consumer as to the benefits femtocells might provide.

Femtocell vendors are confident that their technology is ready for large-scale deployment, but, with the exception of Softbank in Japan--which has committed to a rollout of 10,000 femtocells--European operators continue to conduct only small-scale trials seemingly designed to test that the basic functionality is solid.

One vendor keen to push forward with the education of the end user is NEC. According to Steve Lightley, the company's femtocell product manager, the trials it has been involved with have highlighted the fact that consumers very quickly understand what a femtocell is and what it does.

"3G femtocells do not do anything new. They operate the same as the macro network, but with the benefit of avoiding some of the laws of physics which restrict indoor coverage."

Lightley is keen to stress that femtocells will not, initially, bring with them any new mobile applications. "All they should do is enable the existing handset applications to work indoors using a solid and reliable connection. When the consumer has realised that femtocells can provide them with a dependable and high-speed mobile data connection, they will start to use their 3G handsets to access services such as video calling, visual voicemail, media streaming, etc. Once this capability is proven, consumers would then take advantage of additional applications that the femtocell could support." The adoption by consumers of femtocells would also be assisted, according to NEC, if they were presented as an integrated device that included Wi-Fi and DSL functionality--and presented as a simple plug-and-play solution. "This should make the adoption much quicker as the device would not be seen as new technology but a shift in perceptions - it would be just another access point."

This need to present femtocells as a high-speed indoor access point is more of a European requirement, as against the US where femtocells are seemingly being positioned to primarily improve indoor voice coverage.

Given that the amount of smartphones on offer is likely to increase--the number of leaked announcements planned for Mobile World Congress would indicate that Acer and Dell are keen to become involved--then the use of the these devices in the home as mobile high-speed data terminals looks set to rise if femtocells are all they are claimed to be. -Paul