Will femtocells sweep WiFi on the FMC front?


Will femtocells sweep WiFi on the FMC front?

In case there was any doubt, Verizon Wireless certified the recent femtocell hype in the U.S. as a rising trend by announcing plans to launch femto services by year-end.

The carrier's CTO Tony Melone said at the CTIA Wireless 2008 trade show last week that subscribers can expect femtocell products and services that boost coverage in the home sometime in 2008. While Sprint has already commercially launched its Airave femtocell product in three markets, Verizon Wireless' disclosed interest in the technology prompted AT&T to admit that it has been evaluating femtocells too. T-Mobile USA has tackled the poor coverage at home problem by offering [email protected], a service that makes use of UMA-powered WiFi-enabled devices.

The major sticking point for femtocell's future success is pricing. Sprint's Airaves reportedly cost around $200 and the carrier is subsidizing them for a retail price of $50. Tack on an additional $15-a-month for unlimited calling at home and you'll recoup some of that subsidy over time but it's still steep for a struggling carrier.

What's more, not everyone needs to improve their cellular coverage at home. The femtocell pushers understand that. In Europe, where voice coverage is of less concern, the goal has been to sell 3G femtocells that improve data coverage at home for wireless devices. Considering WiFi's ubiquity that's a hard sell.

Femtocells aren't just a voice and data play, however. Once the pricepoints are at a more comfortable level for carriers these cell-towers-in-the-home could enable home security features. One such application would allow parents who are still at work to log into an online portal that's connected to the home femtocell. The femtocell can report which of the kids are at home based on which devices are connecting to it. The femtocell could even show which of their friends are over if their devices are roaming on the home network, too.

Thanks to Verizon Wireless' commitment to femtocells and AT&T's sudden interest, the technology could be poised to sweep the fixed-mobile convergence battle out from under WiFi. That is, of course, if the price is right. -Brian

P.S. Femtocells weren't the only hot topic at CTIA last week: Join FierceWireless Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek tomorrow at 2 p.m. EST for a Webinar on "The newsmakers of CTIA." Analysts Linda Barrabee of the Yankee Group and Andy Seybold of Andrew Seybold Inc. will join Sue in dissecting the news, trends and gossip from the CTIA show. Sign up here.