One of the more inefficient--and expensive--aspects of 3G network deployment is the need for mobile operators to deploy outdoors macro carriers to support indoor users. Now, what if we could install cellular base stations (or 3G radio hubs) in subscribers' homes or offices to deliver voice and data at carrier-grade quality but a fraction of the cost of outdoor macro carriers? In fact, we can: These low-power base stations are called femtocells, and more and more companies are warming up to the technology. There are many benefits for operators here, 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. The latest developments:
- Japanese carrier Softbank Mobile is teaming up with Alcatel-Lucent to upgrade its mobile network to improve indoor coverage and allow users to get better multimedia services on 3G UMTS networks. The focus will initially be on picocell installations in office buildings, but residential services are also part of the deployment and could extend to using 3G femtocells. Unstrung's Dan Jones correctly points out that Softbank is one of the carriers most enthusiastic about the potential of IP-based femtocell technology.
- RadioFrame Networks is planning to move into the home base station market later this year. The company now makes picocells aiming to enhance GSM and UMTS wireless coverage. The company's femtocell products will initially include separate 2G and 3G base stations which will ship in the third quarter of 2007. The firm is planning a combined 2G/3G unit in the fourth quarter of 2007.
For more on femtocell technology:
- see the websites of picoChip | 3Way Networks | RadioFrame Networks | AirWalk Communication | Airvana | IPAccess | Ubiquisys
- and Gabriel Brown's 22-page Unstrung Insider report