O2 Telefonica moves towards femtocells to solve LTE capacity issues

With many operators beginning to raise doubts over LTE's ability to handle future demands for data traffic, O2 Telefonica has indicated that it may be moving towards using femto and picocells to provide additional capacity.

According to O2 Telefonica's new technology executive, Jaime Lluch Ladron, while LTE operating in the 800MHz band will provide good coverage, including penetrating into buildings, "this is not going to be enough. It is not a long-term solution."

To help provide additional capacity and more comprehensive in-building coverage, Lluch Ladron indicated that his company was looking at smaller cell sites using the 2.6GHz spectrum. "[Telefonica is moving towards] street-level picocells and femtocells... based on this 2.6GHz frequency," Lluch Ladron said.

While other cellular experts have suggested that Wi-Fi could be used to provide offload--coupled with femto and/or picocells--the O2 Telefonica exec was quick to dismiss the idea.

Attempting to seamlessly offload traffic onto Wi-Fi networks could have potentially serious consequences for telecoms operators, said Lluch Ladron. If our customers do not have a good experience with the Wi-Fi connection, "they will call us. They will get upset with us," he pointed out, despite the fact that the cellco has no control over the Wi-Fi network.

Supporting this move to femto and picocells is, unsurprisingly, Femto Forum chairman, Simon Saunders. He stressed that indoor data traffic was significant today, "and would rise to 95 per cent of the total in the next few years."

Saunders claims that the case for femto or picocell deployment had never been stronger given that it currently costs in the range of US$7-US$9 to carry 1GB of traffic on a mobile network. "By using femtocells in key areas, operators can bring about a reduction in the cost per bit in the order of a factor of four," he said.

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