Sagemcom have been supplying the hardware used for Vodafone's SureSignal and other femtocell platforms for several years. Jean-Baptiste, Femtocell Product Manager at Sagemcom, explains that the company has now launched its own standalone femtocell and reveals an innovative and unusual format – integrated into an electric mains plug.
How has Sagemcom evolved from its femtocell products?
We worked in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent, supplying them with the hardware platform which supports their femtocell application software. This is familiar to many as the Vodafone SureSignal product, and we have adapted and refined the design over several years into different form factors.
We see the femtocell ecosystem evolving from being single end-to-end supplier into multi-vendor. The open interface for femtocells – the Iu-h – is gaining more and more momentum. While it's not in use in every commercial femtocell network today, this is definitely an interesting move across the industry.
This open interface will allow us to sell our femtocell products to operators with any Iu-h compliant gateway.
Tell us about your latest product format
We've recently launched the "FemtoPlug", a very new concept and simple approach for femtocells. We were selected by Vodafone to develop it and are very pleased with the result. We have again worked closely with Alcatel-Lucent to integrate it into their solution using proven femtocell software, and at the same time developed our own Iu-h compliant software to create a product interoperable with any standard compliant femtocell gateway.
The femtocell has been shrunk to fit completely inside a standard mains plug, and incorporates a mains socket. This means it is effectively a pass-through mains device, and doesn't take up an additional power socket in the home. It could easily be used where the existing residential broadband router is plugged in.
It has an Ethernet socket for the broadband connection to the router (actually it has two, so that it can be inline with any existing PC and prioritise the femtocell traffic).
Unlike USB femtocells which plug directly into broadband routers, the FemtoPlug works with almost any residential modem – it doesn't rely on any special features.
Initial response from customer trials confirm that it is extremely easy to install, very unobtrusive yet gives good results.
Would this work with "Powerline Ethernet", where the broadband signal is connected through the mains wiring?
Yes, it does. Sagemcom has a separate division which makes Ethernet over mains products, and the FemtoPlug is compatible with these. For example, you could locate the FemtoPlug in the living room close to the users with the router hidden away in the basement.
At the moment, you would need to use separate modules. However, we are already working on a next generation version which will integrate both into a single product.
What stage are you at with the FemtoPlug?
We've completed field trials in different regions, which have been very positive, but the product is not on retail sale yet. Vodafone announced at Small Cell World Summit last week that it would be in the shops in many countries in Europe to New Zealand in a few weeks. We were very pleased to see that it picked up an award for best residential femtocell product at this year's Small Cell Forum awards.
What other types of small cells are you considering?
Our company expertise is in mass market residential and SOHO products, such as set top boxes. We aren't planning any outdoor, metrocells or large enterprise small cells. Our femtocells can handle up to 8 concurrent users at data rates up to 21 Mbit/s with an RF power of 20mW – we believe this is more than enough to satisfy our target residential segment.
In previous years, we demonstrated integrated femtocell products (such as TV set top boxes with femtocells) but haven't been successful yet because the volume of femtocells shipped has reached the high numbers forecast earlier. Network operators like to have a small range of products in stock and have chosen to limit their choice and range. We don't see a strong demand from operators to date, but we look and wait – we would be ready to address this demand when it appears.
Was the software developed in-house or bought in?
We already had a lot of software for consumer equipment which was appropriate, such as our TR.069 remote management stack. We also bought protocol stacks off-the-shelf and integrated this with our own in-house application. This will allow us to interwork with any femtocell gateway/solution supplier using the open Iu-h interface.
We believe that femtocell development has progressed significantly in recent years – we are no longer at the pioneering stage of the earliest systems. The end-to-end solutions are now quite mature and stable. Many of the interoperability issues found with (rogue) mobiles have been solved by the chipset vendors.
The process of developing a standalone femtocell needs to be demystified. It is now easier, although still not easy, than in previous years.
In the past, the lack of experience with large CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) deployments created some issues for some of the non-CPE vendors. Sagemcom can address this based on our experience with a large installed base of set top boxes.
@Steve: We operate in a multinational, multi-language enviroment, so the name may be taken with different meanings in different countries. But of course this will be sold under the SureSignal brand by Vodafone, who may have a different product name themselves for it (and those may vary per country). Maybe I should run a competition for a better name for it. Any suggestions?