Product Packaging

Femtocell Product Packaging Format Femtocells can be packaged in a variety of different physical formats. Here are the main ones we know about:

Standalone

This is the original concept. A unit with two wired connections:

  • one for power through an external main adaptor,

  • one for data through an Ethernet RJ45 to your broadband modem.

There may be a few indicator lights, but very little needed to install and use the product. In the early days of product evolution, the ability to focus on the new system, ignore any external issues and rapidly evolve new versions is important.

However, it has longer term cost and support issues. Many home users may not be proficient in connecting wired devices to their router, there is no knowing what the router model is and how it is configured. This can lead to the femtocell not working, or worse, not working well. For example, if voice traffic is not prioritised then calls may dropout during heavy data usage on laptops or computers in the same house.

We’ve seen products for this format from Ubiquisys, ip.access, Airvana and others.

DSL Modem

The next step up is to integrate the femtocell into an existing DSL broadband modem design. No additional external connections are needed – the modem will already have power and data connectivity, and usually a list of other standard features too. The femtocell module is hardwired into the modem and can be given priority for voice calls to ensure improved performance.

Whilst the overall cost of the combined unit is much less than two separate boxes, it is the ease of installation and remote management which benefits this option. Many mobile operators have started offering DSL broadband as an additional service, particularly in Europe. If the additional cost of a combined modem/femtocell is acceptable, then this could be shipped to customers as part of a package.

Cable Modem

More households in the USA receive their broadband internet service from their cable TV supplier than from the phone company (as is more common in Europe and elsewhere). The modem can be separate from the TV Set-top box (below) or a combined unit.

The large Cable TV companies in the US, such as Comcast, previously had agreements to resell mobile services on the Sprint network. This appears to have been discontinued. Although Cable TV companies do own some spectrum (via the Spectrum Co) business, and so could legally launch and operate a network using this, their investments seem to be more based around WiMax rather than traditional mobile phone technology at present.

TV Set-Top Box

Many consumers are becoming used to a set-top box to watch additional TV channels, record/playback programs and play games. Since the femtocell must serve the whole house, rather than just the room with computers in, it can make more sense for it to be located near the TV.

Typical examples of set top boxes include:

  • Cable TV decoders, which can include:

    • PVR (Tivo-like) ability to record programs to hard disk for later viewing

    • IPTV ability to download or stream video programs from the internet

  • Satellite TV decoders with similar capabilities. For example, in the UK, SKY+ a combined satellite receiver/decoder and PVR is extremely popular.

  • Games consoles, such as Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP etc. Some of these products are now also capable of handling IPTV services such as the BBC’s iPlayer.

Operators wanting to capture the lions share of household spend will want control of as many of these functions as possible. We have already seen triple or quadplay packages (i.e. selling a combined package of telephone, broadband internet, TV and (for quad-play) mobile services). Several of these options are being offered by Cable, Satellite, telephone and some Internet Service Provider companies in many countries.

Conclusion

Initial launch of femtocells may focus on standalone units to reduce time to market and allow rapid product upgrade.  


By integrating the femtocell into a high value solution it can make for an improved business case, but there are some drawbacks:
  • High initial cost of the femtocell module will make it a much larger proportion of the equipment cost, and thus make it less likely to be provided for free by default

  • The greater complexity added into a single product the greater the risk of failure (outage) – there are more things to go wrong - and much greater impact when it does.

  • The location of the set-top box may not be optimal for femtocell purposes, but it must be located near the TV because that is its primary purpose.

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