The Femto Forum is born

A note from the Editor-in-Chief
Welcome to FierceBroadbandWireless--the new and improved version of FierceWiFi. We have decided to rename the publication and broaden our coverage to include multiple broadband wireless technologies like WiMAX, EVDO and HSDPA as well as WiFi. In addition, we are increasing the frequency of the publication to twice-weekly with one issue today and one issue on Thursday. The Thursday issue will focus on a particular theme.

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The Femto Forum is born
The hype surrounding femtocells has reached a fever pitch so it's only fitting that a founding group of seven vendors (Airvana, ip.access, Netgear, PicoChip, RadioFrame, Tatara and Ubiquisys) and unnamed operators are launching the Femto Forum today. Femtocells are being billed as the next big thing in fixed-mobile convergence, promising to solve many of the shortcomings faced so far by many existing WiFi/cellular FMC services, namely a lack of compelling handsets and perceived complexity of the solution.

Femtocells are envisioned to enable mobile operators to offer micro base stations for use in subscribers' homes or officers to deliver voice and data at carrier-grade quality at cheaper costs for operators and customers. There are many benefits for operators, chief among them: the ability to calibrate capital investment so it is more in line with subscriber demand; the fact that the IP back haul is paid for by the subscriber; and the fact that femtocells would work with the standard mobile handsets already in use by millions of customers around the world.  

Despite the compelling proposition of femtocells, they are still immature and in danger of being too expensive. The bill of materials for femtocells will have to fall close to that of cell phones that include WiFi chipsets for femtocells to really take off. Hence, the formation of the Femto Forum.

One main challenge the forum will tackle is open standards, said Simon Saunders, the new chairman of the forum, in an interview with FierceBroadbandWireless. Even though the advantage of femtocells is that they can leverage existing open standards like WiMAX, EV-DO and HSDPA, these standards weren't written with millions of tiny cells in mind, Saunders said, and without open femtocell standards, femtocells risk becoming too expensive.

The Femto Forum also aims to educate the market about the value proposition of femtocells, which has been another stumbling block for commercial FMC WiFi/cellular services. Consumers don't quite understand the benefits of a mobile service in a fixed local area network. (That could change with T-Mobile USA. See Story No. 2 below)

Lastly, the forum wants to bring together a femtocell ecosystem. "We have a lot of vendors that are not just femtocell focused," Saunders said. "We want to bring those companies in the ecosystem to understand what the operator needs are and drive the opportunity for high-scale products."

One luxury the forum has is being able to tap into the successes and pitfalls of today's WiFi/cellular FMC approach. Femtocells are going to face many of the same challenges as WiFi/cellular service such as handoff from the macro base station to the micro base station. In fact, the Femto Forum is hosting a conference on Tuesday. Many of the presenters, executives from Orange, T-Mobile International and Kineto, already have experience with WiFi/cellular service.

Interestingly, the operator presence at the conference gives us a hint of which operators are likely a part of the forum (the forum isn't announcing operators yet). Orange, T-Mobile International, Telefonica and Sprint are presenting.--Lynnette