Andy is renowned for having his finger on the pulse of femtocell activities. Here we put him on the spot and ask him about recent announcements from Qualcomm and picoChip, try to nail down that pesky femtocell/picocell terminology debate and also look ahead at LTE.
You’ve announced a partnership with Qualcomm around their new Femto Station Modem chipset. What does this mean to your picoChip based product portfolio?
We’re not ready to make any announcements on products yet. We’ve been working together with Qualcomm for a long time on technology issues and they are also one of our investors.
We’ve been evaluating their FSM chipset and investigating their use in future products. Our future could support multiple chipsets from different vendors – our designs are platform independent and able to use different devices.
Within our portfolio we see products for different markets that have different needs. For example, a residential femtocell might be 4 channel closed access while an office/enterprise femtocell might be 8 channel open access. These have different technical requirements which must be evaluated against the available chipsets. The flexibility of our design allows us the choice of different or multiple platforms.
Any thoughts on picoChip’s recent product announcements?
Their full spec basestation is LABS (Local Area Base Station) compliant, which is no small feat. There is a lot of opportunity and interest in public outdoor hotspots – so-called metro-femto – and this would meet the requirements. It was interesting to note that both the older Iub basestation interface is supported as well as the femtocell specific Iu-h (which doesn’t support soft handover).
As a major player in GSM picocells, what’s your view of the GSM femtocell market opportunity?
We simply don’t see a market for consumer 2G femtocells. Operators want 3G femtocells for residential use, although 2G is still in demand for pico/enterprise applications. If we did see a market, it would have been easier for ip.access to build one [2G femtocell rather than 3G]. There are some valid arguments for 2G femtocells, but we can’t see a business case if operators won’t buy them.
Enterprise Femtocell vs Picocell - Is there really any difference apart from the name?
The difference between pico and femto is not about architecture or hardware design – it’s about the size and capacity of the cell. Factors such as the transmit power (which determines range) and number of concurrent users supported differentiate the residential and enterprise products.
Whether it’s called an Enterprise Femtocell or picocell, we see little difference. Such products would typically have a specification of 24dBm transmit power, support 8-16 users, be supplied by Power over Ethernet, have tighter oscillator timing and be capable of driving a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) to pipe the signal around a large building.
Moving ahead to 4G, what role will femtocells play in the LTE rollout?
I expect the LTE macro network to be built first. Wide area coverage is essential during the early launch phase, and I don’t share the view of some pundits that the LTE network can be rolled out “inside out” with femtocells first. Small cells are a must in the LTE world, and so femtocells will form an essential element as the networks mature.
When we move on to LTE, the standards make no real architectural distinction between femtocells and other basestations.
There are a number of short term issues before residential LTE femtocells take off:
- Voice service needs to be sorted out fist
- Dual mode 3G/4G will be needed for backward compatibility with existing devices (and perhaps for voice fallback to 3G)
- High speed fixed line broadband is essential to make a noticeable difference between 3G and 4G femtocell performance
- LTE will compete with Wi-Fi which also has high speed/short range domestic service
One market driver that could make a difference is that customers will expect their LTE handsets to say “LTE” on the screen when they are at home.
And there’s more
View an interview with Andy taken at Femtocell World Summit in June, where he demonstrated femtocell enabled home automation. He also shares his views on why the early femtocell pioneers can maintain their lead in commercial deployments and explains how the femtocell standard allows other vendors to participate.
(If for any reason you don't see the video embedded above, you can access directly on YouTube by clicking here)