Femtocell announcements bring market momentum; questions still remain

A few big announcements in the femtocell arena this week should give this market some good momentum. First, Qualcomm made a significant yet unknown investment in ip.access' Oyster 3G system, which uses the residential broadband connection to deliver a 3G signal in the home. The move is seen as validating the femtocell concept, especially since Qualcomm is so adept at making the right technology investments.

The Femto Forum also came to an agreement on a standard way femtocells should connect with the mobile core network. The agreement is welcome news as a number of vendors have come up with their own connection standards. Since femtocells are expected to take on various forms with differing capabilities serving different market segments, no operator wants to be locked into a single type of home base station. That fear has discouraged some operators from making the leap from trial to soft commercial launches.

Moreover, picoChip unveiled its first reference designs for LTE femtocells and picocells, which will enable the company's existing femtocell customers--which include ip.access and Ubiquisys--to upgrade to LTE. That's important because it has been suggested that LTE/4G femtocells could be the starting point for 4G deployments. Operators could actually begin their 4G deployment in the customer's home and 3G as the fallback network.

Of course, at least two big unknowns remain: marketing and cost. Will operators market the service as a boon for voice or data? How does one create a clear message around the femtocell market given its own value propositions? Why would I, as a consumer, need another box in my house? How fast can vendors drive down the price of such a nascent technology? At what price will the service attract a mass number of users? The questions are still numerous at this point.

Continuing with the femtocell theme, check out a preview of the latest Industry Voices article from Maravedis below. FierceBroadbandWireless will be featuring a monthly column from Maravedis analysts Adlane Fellah and Robert Syputa. Maravedis is a research and analysis firm focusing on Broadband Wireless technologies including WiMAX, 802.20, TD-CDMA and Wireless Local Loop Systems. For more information, see www.maravedis-bwa.com. --Lynnette

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