Femtos have limited potential, says Mobilkom, while Forum plans plugfest

Mobilkom Austria the cellular subsidiary of Telekom Austria, has asked a select group of femtocell vendors to bid for a supply contract, while publicly stating that it sees only limited use for the technology.

According to Mobilkom CTO, Johann Pichler, femtocells are good for boosting in-building coverage, but are restricted in their usage due to interference. Pichler also claims that femtos are not a good solution for offloading data traffic from the macro network, which is often suggested as a key selling point for the miniature base stations. "If you have a lot of femtos in the network, you... can have problems with interference," he told Unstrung. "To offload traffic makes no sense."

This negative viewpoint could be worrying for the femtocell community given that Mobilkom was among the first to trial the technology in Europe and started testing enterprise and residential femtocells from Huawei in November 2008. Pichler said the feedback from the trial had been good and that the main traffic on the femtos was voice, rather than data.

Adding further doubts, Pichler has questioned the price of commercial femtocells, claiming it needs to be pitched close to that of existing Wi-Fi routers to be successful. "It makes no sense for it to be more expensive, otherwise you can't bring it on the market."

However, given that Mobilkom hinted that it might deploy femtocells in some of the six other countries where it has mobile operations, these comments might suggest that potential bidders should cut their pricing to the bone.

Meanwhile, the Femto Forum has outlined the next step in making the technology fit for widescale deployment with the announcement of its first major interoperability testing programme planned for March 2010 in Sophia Antipolis, France. The plugfest, which will be coordinated by ETSI, will involve interop testing between femto network gateways, security gateways, access points and chipset vendors to verify the 3GPP's Iuh interface as defined in release 8.

Femto Forum chairman Simon Saunders commented: "Vendor interoperability is the key ingredient that will give operators the confidence to start mass deployments. There are currently over 20 femtocell access point models and over a dozen network gateways on the market and this programme will start to ensure they all work together harmoniously."

Saunders added that release 9 of the 3GPP standard, which will take in LTE capabilities, is set to be frozen in December, and work is also progressing within the 3GPP2 group for CDMA versions of femtocells.

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