Today's chairmen did their best to keep the conference running to schedule, with a packed program followed by drinks and a Gala Dinner (which included the Annual Femto Forum Awards). I can't do justice to all the content from presentations, various exhibition stands and conversations in a short article, so apologies for substantial omissions.
Femtocells leave home
Like teenagers growing up and leaving home, perhaps today's theme might be that femtocells are very much no longer just residential coverage solutions. Alan Law, Vodafone Group's New Technologies Manager, who has been working with femtocells for 7 years (that's a very long time in dog femto years) expounded how they had used them first with consumers, then enterprise, public access and are now actively trialling LTE metrozone in the 2.6GHz band using wireless backhaul. They understand that end user performance (e.g. dropped call rates) must be at least as good for customers as without femtocells and believe this is more than achievable if engineering properly.
At the other end of the spectrum (really, no pun intended) Mosaic, a small rural telco from the US serving a population of around 500K explained how they are already running LTE broadband outdoor macrocell service today and were ready to go live with 3G femtocells a year ago – they use a fairly unusual combination of 3G spectrum bands and simply haven't been able to buy femtocells to go live with. Having been let down by several other vendors, Ubiquisys has stepped in and promised them product for next month. Mosaic think a combination of LTE fixed broadband and 3G residential femtocell would be a winner for rural areas – combining the long range/high speed of LTE with the compatibility of existing 3G phones.
Enterprise Femtocell isn't a single application
Chris Cox from ip.access delved into the enterprise femtocell landscape and pointed out that it isn't a single problem with a single solution – it's not just SOHO/SME vs Large enteprises – each different business vertical has its own needs (and subtleties). For example, switching off a femtocell in a small office overnight when leaving may be commonplace and not worth monitoring. In contrast, a faulty femtocell in a large 24/7 operation may be much more serious and should be alarmed through to the operator's Network Operations Centre (NOC) for immediate attention.
A new business model – Femtocells As A Service (FaaS)
It came up a few times during the day, but Colt – a UK based enterprise wireline network operator – articulated it best. They proposed various commercial models where they would deploy femtocells at their enterprise customers sites on behalf of the wirelesss operators. These would then be remotely controlled. Various options include complete wholesale and multi-tenant (ie multiple femtocells in one box). The key point was they would effective switch costs from CAPEX to OPEX for the operator – similar to a managed/outsourced service – which may make it attractive for finance directors.
Customers like femtocells
Case studies from Vodafone Greece and Network Norway showed how much their trialling customers liked and appreciated their femtocells. Vodafone Greece reported a reduction from 65% to 8% in propensity to churn. Their 5 year business returns were achieved in just 11 months. 98% of their customers would recommend a femtocell to others. Average use per unit is between 300 and 450 minutes a month by 4 users. It was said that a price of 150 Euros was outrageous – you simply can't ask a customer to pay that much for a femtocell – but their list price was now much lower.
A few other snippets:
- Ubiquisys reported that Softbank Japan have been able to deploy rural femtocells in just 3 days using satellite backhaul. Their "self optimising femto grid" even works for clusters of rural femtocells at 2km range.
- Huawei have deployed femtocells in 22 provinces for China Unicom
- Alcatel-Lucent announced a reference design for a femtocell/broadband modem using Broadcom (formerly Percello) chipset. Their software now runs on both Picochip and Broadcom hardware, which can be manufactured by any OEM/ODM who wants to.
- Picochip think we'll see more wireless backhaul in the next 2-3 years including LTE-LTE relay (for coverage solutions only)
Femto Forum Awards
After the evening's Gala Dinner, the excitement grew as the annual awards were announced. A panel of distinguished judges (of which I'm pleased to say included ThinkFemtocell) determined the winners to be:
- Individual Contribution: Tom Lismer
- Residential Femtocell Access Point Design and Technology Innovation: Picochip
- Non-residential femtocell access point design and technology innovation: Alcatel-Lucent
- Femtocell Network element design and technology innovation: ip.access
- Femtocell Application: New service or technology: Alcatel-Lucent
- Progress in commercial deployment: Huawei
- Commercial deployment – Marketing Campaign: Vodafone
- Commercial Deployment – technical implementation: Vodafone
- Contribution to Femtocell Standards: Nokia Siemens Networks
- Enabling Technology: Texas Instrument
- Social Vision: NEC
- Judges Choice: Rakon
More tomorrow (and you can also follow @ThinkFemtocell too)...