Interview with Prof. Simon Saunders, Chairman Femto Forum, Feb 2010

simon saunders femto forum chairmanFemtocell Interview with Prof Simon Saunders, Chairman of Femto Forum, Jan 2010

Simon took some time out to share details of what the Femto Forum is planning for the year ahead. Their recently approved 2010 priorities (published here first on ThinkFemtocell) include some new areas for femtocells. Simon explains in detail how the Forum plans to support the industry as it matures. He also reports back from the recent CES show in the USA and tells us what we can expect to see at Mobile World Congress.

What are the priorities for the Femto Forum as we enter 2010?

In previous years, our activity has covered themes around removing the barriers to femtocell adoption. We’ve prepared the platform for femtocells, including the business case, operator and consumer acceptance. The Forum now has a membership of over 120 (of which some 55 are operators) and is still growing – showing the continuing market interest in this new technology.

See below for the first public exposure of Femto Forum’s 2010 priorities:

Femto-Forum-2010-Priorities

Supporting and promoting market takeup

The number of service launches has been increasing and we are now moving from first to second deployments, such as:

  • Vodafone Sure Signal (renamed from Vodafone Access Gateway and now strongly marketed)
  • Sprint talking up 3G EV-DO
  • NTT DoCoMo in Japan has moved up to service based femtocell deployment

Operators are not backing away from their early trials, and instead accelerating their deployment plans. The Femto Forum allows our operator members to

  • learn from their experiences
  • develop best practices
  • spread to a wide customer base

During the year, we will be tracking the market development and publishing market updates every quarter, the second of which will be launched later this month. We’ll also be publishing information about consumer responses, attitudes and experience on a regular basis.

Expanding applications

In the early stages, these were very much vendor specific. We’ve moved on from concepts and demos to applications which use our framework architecture. Conversations are taking place between Femto Forum, Femtocell Vendors and Application Vendors. We saw some of these demonstrated at the Femto Americas Conference San Diego, such as the ability to roam between different femtocell vendors.

Our public handset applications framework will be published in the early part of the year (the draft is now reaching a mature stage), as well as generating clear requirements regarding femtocell services in general which will  be submitted by members to multiple standards bodies.

Greater Femtocells

The Femto Forum scope is not limited to 3G UMTS femtocells nor only for domestic use.

We have seen activity in 3GPP, 3GPP2 and WiMAX Forum standards bodies around enterprise requirements – and in particular have been supporting 3GPP2 on this topic recently. We are also considering deployment practices including aspects such as PBX integration, sales channels, security firewalls etc are all being considered, which in some cases go beyond the remit of the standards bodies. Overall, this is a complex and quite different ecosystem compared to domestic femtocells, but one which also represents a very substantial opportunity, building on the economies of scale, standards and ecosystem for domestic applications

We’re also seen the new concept of using femtocells for rural coverage. In many countries there are social imperatives to broaden access to mobile services and in some cases there are broadband stimulus funds available to further these goals.  Femtocells can be installed at very low cost with the backhaul (transmission back to the mobile network centres) routed over microwave, WiMAX or satellite.

It’s true that there is also demand for GSM femtocells for this purpose – the lower cost (particularly lower handset cost) is particularly attractive. But these communities also have an opportunity to use 3G and beyond to leapfrog tethered laptops and provide applications where previously no broadband internet was available.

To some extent this depends on the regulators’ position, but these rural femtocells could be deployed by a System Integrator or other business. There are a whole variety of diverse and large opportunities in this market.

Standards

We are coming towards the closure of 3GPP Release 9 which includes end-to-end LTE femtocell standards. There has also been a lot of activity at 3GPP2 and in the WiMAX Forum. Our role is to help achieve timely completion of these standards and to spread the news and provide some extra guidance on standards. For example, femtocells affect many different standards documents and we can help highlight the relevant ones and provide an accessible guide for developers new to the mobile field.

The next wave of standards will include detailed requirements for 3GPP2 Phase 2, WiMAX Phase 2 and 3GPP Release 10.

Interoperability

We are at an advanced stage of planning for the Plugfest for 3GPP Release 8 due to take place in March, supported by Femto Forum and hosted by ETSI. Already more than 20 different companies are signed up to participate. We expect there to be an ongoing program relating to interoperability, which is not yet finalized. This would include more plugfests, a broader notion of testing in the field and defining a selected standard configuration where standards have multiple options or open to misinterpretation.

Next Generation

Future femtocells will support LTE and WiMAX technologies. We’ll be looking at the business case and what differs from 3G. This can include using femtocells as an enabler where appropriate. Lookout for both technical and marketing insights from the Femto Forum during the year.

Domestic Use

We want to promote easy setup and self-configuration of femtocells in the home. This should also include interacting with other new devices in the home, routing of the data, prioritizing the quality of service and access to different devices.

Broadening our Reach

The Femto Forum has run events jointly with Avren Conferences in three regions and will continue to do so in 2010. Last year, an additional event in Beijing was very exciting – it was around the time that China Unicom launched – with over 300 delegates attending. We’ll return to China in 2010 and also be looking for opportunities in LATAM, Russia and the Middle East.

Do you see a threat to Femtocells from Wi-Fi?

We are not pitching femtocells as direct competitors to Wi-Fi – both will co-exist. Users expect many wireless devices in their homes, and are becoming more demanding about how easy they are to configure. Wi-Fi is already widely deployed, but femtocells:

  • offer access to more mobile devices (all existing 3G phones)
  • work with featurephones too. While smartphones (which have Wi-Fi) are now around 15-20% of the market, they aren’t expected to exceed 25% and most handsets sold today are now featurephones which are unlikely to ever have Wi-Fi. These meet a lower price point and have longer battery life.
  • Are a fully managed service
  • Provide better handset battery life
  • Don’t require any configuration on the phone

So we see femtocells as very much complementary to Wi_Fi and we will continue to see both deployed, in some cases integrated into a single access point. We have explained these issues in detail in a recent white paper, available from the Forum website [email registration required].

What’s your view of the recent MagicJack product announcement?

I can’t comment on any specific product. In general, I’d say that innovation is good and that GSM femtocells are interesting to some people.

The Femto Forum has a clear definition of a femtocell with specific criteria to be met, including:

  • Operating in licensed spectrum
  • Managed by an operator, necessarily by or with the explicit permission of the spectrum licensee.

These aren’t arbitrary definitions: the spectrum license is there to avoid interference, so the service can be trusted and relied upon by consumers.

What’s the Femto Forum doing at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona?

This will be our third event running the FemtoZone (also found at MWC last year and this month’s CES). The FemtoZone acts as a hub for all things femtocell:

  • Product Showcase – see femtocells in the flesh and in operation
  • Presentations from vendors and operators, covering their their practical experience rather than the fundamentals. The full program will be published shortly.
  • New publications, including an updated business case and market status

The femtozone and these presentations are open to all with exhibitor passes. Additionally, I’ll be chairing a specific femtocell panel in the main conference (full conference pass required).

And finally - how did the recent CES event go? Will you do this again?

This was the first time the Femto Forum has exhibited at a consumer-focused conference. The CES (Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, USA)  is the premier event in this space. In previous years we decided it was too early but for 2010 the time was right. The USA has the world’s first competitive femtocell market and this was reflected in the huge level of interest we got.

Our recent study showed that over 50% of consumers would be interested in a femtocell. We attracted a lot of interest at this event and are highly likely to repeat it again at this or similar events.

 

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