2008 Year in Review: All hype and no action on femtocells

The hype surrounding femtocells reached a fever pitch in 2008, but with little in terms of market rollouts. Those router-sized mobile home base stations were billed at the "next big thing" in fixed-mobile convergence, promising to solve the many shortcomings faced by existing WiFi/cellular FMC services and enable operators to offer consumers high-speed data, VoIP and conventional voice services in the home with reduced infrastructure costs and cheaper prices for the consumer.

Sprint has been the only operator to roll out femtocells in the U.S. In July, the operator expanded its Airave femtocell offering to all customers nationwide and retooled its price plans for the in-home wireless technology. We have yet to hear about any milestones Sprint has made with the product.

In April, Verizon Wireless CTO Tony Melone said at the CTIA Wireless 2008 trade show the carrier would begin offering femtocell products and service plans sometime this year. Then in October, AT&T and Verizon announced plans to move ahead with femtocells. AT&T has indicated it will begin trialling femtocells later this year and into 2009. Verizon Wireless said it may introduce its first femtocell product next year.

The bottom line: An unclear business case will likely lead to a slower rollout in 2009 as operators grapple with how to convey the value of femtocells to their customers. The good news is that the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has now finalized specs for femtocells.