Femto frenzy moves from concept to reality

The femtocell frenzy that we witnessed in Barcelona during last month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is expected to continue during CTIA 2008. Last year, when folks mentioned femtocells, they'd receive a blank stare back. This year, operators are making moves in the market, and vendors are working to get a piece of the potentially lucrative pie.

Billed as an alternative to WiFi/cellular solutions, femtocells can be described as router-sized mobile home base stations that are expected to become 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. Operators know that the proliferation of flat-rate voice and data plans will continue to increase the amount of traffic on their networks. Hence, they need a data and voice offload feature that can help bear all of the traffic. Major operators from around the world want to deploy femtocells globally from 2008. Early trials and consumer deployments are already under way in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

While last year's show was all about educating the market about femtocells, this year's show should reveal some real products and concepts. Vendors are focusing on integration and applications. For operators, integrating femtocells into their networks is a major issue and something the Femto Forum has said it will help operators do. However, a plethora of options remain on the table. For instance, NEC and Kineto Wireless recently announced a standards proposal based on the existing 3GPP Generic Access Network (GAN) model. NSN, Sonus and Starent have introduced their own options.

Meanwhile, the WiFi community, which has a head start in the convergence play, is not about to be drowned out by the femtocell noise. Expect the Wi-Fi Alliance to outline how it will work with its membership and the community to take the converged device user experience to a new level by driving forward with testing, research and working groups. -Lynnette