Femtocell World Summit 2009 - Day One includes Vodafone Commercial Launch

Femtocell World Summit 2009Femtocell World Summit 2009 turns out to be a very popular event, with over 270 delegates plus 40 more (mainly developers) attending the applications demonstration session in the evening. With 21 exhibitors, there are a lot of different applications on display. Unlike some other telecom conferences, this one is thriving with increased attendance and all the key players present. Here's my impressions from the first day..

 

Vodafone UK launch commercial femtocell - Vodafone Access Gateway

The event got off to an exciting start when Vodafone announced full commercial launch of their femtocell in UK on 1st July. This took the audience by surprise, mainly because the date is much earlier than expected. The move is seen to validate the femtocell concept and welcomed by all femtocell vendors. This is the first tier 1 operator to launch 3G consumer femtocell.

The key points of their initial offer, called the Vodafone Access Gateway
- Positioned for consumers (enterprise may follow later)
- Focussed on coverage first (customer retention teams will use this as an option)
- Very confident there are no major technical issues
- Standalone femtocell box, provided by Alcatel-Lucent (based on SAGEM femtocell using picoChip chipset)
- Extensive training program for sales, customer care etc. already completed
- Available in shops and online from 1st July
- Online signup also conducts broadband test on your PC to check if can be supported during sales process (a software utility believed to be provided by Epitiro)
- Access is controlled through a "white list" which can be updated online or via customer care, so although any Vodafone 3G subscriber could use the femtocell, only those phone numbers on the whitelist will be allowed to. It's likely, but not confirmed, that roaming users can also be added to the whitelist.
- Announced by Lee Macdougal, Vodafone's UK Network Product Marketing Director, so not just a technical trial/option
- Basically free with selected tarffis, but no discounted calls or data allowance for at home use

Priced in several options, examples included:
a) New subscribers: Low tier handset (Ericsson C510) + femtocell + some minutes/texts @ £15/month
b) High end handset (an HTC smartphone similar to Google Android) + femtocell + 600 minutes @ £30/month
c) Rental only at £5/month
d) One off payment of £160

There are no special rates or extra minutes for use via the femtocell.

ATT have done their homework

Meanwhile, ATT explained in detail the comprehensive trials they have been running and lessons learned. Large tier 1 operators need to ensure not only that the solution will work, but will be easy to install and meet customer expectations.

Key points included:
- Seamless installation is a must, down to the detail of how the LEDs on the box are described
- Accurate point of sale and customer care training, to set the right expectation
- Integration into the customer's home network configuration can be complex (few customers have exactly the same setup)
- Assisted GPS is essential to provide the clock synchronisation

Their statistics show that 37% of voice and 35% of mobile data originates from inside the home. Their surveys have shown that over 30% of users with good home coverage are still interested in a femtocell, even when told they'd have to upgrade their device.

ATT are currently in "targetted customer trials" with over 200 customers and will be expanding this "any day now". In the coming weeks, they will open the trials to customers in a handful of cities. They are on track for a full national launch before end 2009.

Industry sources suggest that ATT have been working with two main vendors during the trials
- 2Wire (who already provide millions of fixed line DSL modems and have developed their own femtocell from scratch)
- Cisco (who have incorporated a femtocell from ip.access into a combined modem/IPTV home gateway)

It is by no means clear if ATT would launch with either of these vendors, but the mood of the conference was that Vodafone's announcement will put more pressure on them to move quickly.

Telecom Italia Mobile publish figures from their customer trials

TIM Italy have been running extensive trials and published a whole range of interesting statistics.

Some examples are quite surprising:
- 55% of domsetic users power off their device when not in use, 25% leave it on all the time
- 77% of business users leave it on during the week, switch off at weekend
- Mobile email is the most used service on the femtocell at home
- 79% of trialists would want a fulluy integrated all-in-one solution (femtocell, broadband modem, router, Wifi etc)

Their trials included a pre-provisioned femtocell, which was installed completely on the first attempt 60% of the time. Again, they reinforced the need for clear, concise, simple instructions and ease of automatic installation.

TIM found the most popular commercial package was for coverage and homezone with unlimited calls when on the femtocell.

They are still analysing their trial results and have not yet decided on a commercial launch date.

Femto Forum very much on-track

Simon Saunders presented a very positive progress report on femto forum activities, highlighting that their original timeframe for commercial launch has been met and the industry in on track for mass market rollout during 2010.

The forum is moving on from bringing femtocells to market (which is now achieved), and now looking at growth and expanding the market. Femtocells are now being reclassified as any small cell which operates in controlled spectrum and enables wide area mobility, so this includes WiMAX, CDMA, UMTS and LTE technologies. It also now includes not just domestic, enterprise (i.e. business) but outdoor use in both urban (so called metro femto) and rural (e.g. remote villages) applications.

The forum has already achieved many of its 2009 objectives and is actively working towards the rest. One initiative is a new special interest group to enable application developers to create software for femtocells, which will include a face-to-face event program and online support. This initiative is intended to be a two-way conversation, listening to developers requirements so these can be incorporated into the overall program.

There will also be a "plug fest" to check interoperability between the different femtocell access points and femtocell gateways using the new 3GPP Release 8 standard and Iuh interface. With most femtocell vendors aiming to support the standard by the end of 2009, the plugfest is scheduled for Q1 2010. Meanwhile initial commercial launches will use proprietary implementations, although these can all be upgraded to standards compliance through a software update.

Femtocell Applications demonstrated

With 21 exhibitors at the event, many showed live demonstrations of various applications and integration with different systems. Typical examples were around:
- Integration with mainstream internet services, such as Facebook
- Presence (triggering updates or text messages when entering/leaving the home)
- Remote control, such as Thomson home gateway
- Full integration with media server and IPTV, such as the Pirelli broadband/IPTV solution

What I found more important is that the capability to develop applications is now available. The Thompson home gateway for example includes both DNLA and OSGi standards based APIs, so can interwork with media players (similar to iTunes) and home control/security functions (they demonstrated turning on/off a light).

The femtocell vendors themselves are not suggesting they will supply the applications themselves, and the femto forum is starting a new initiative this year to open up access for the wider developer community to make use of common APIs.

Zahid Ghadialy posts extensive details of the demonstrations with detailed photographs, whilst Dean Bubley summarises the femtocell API options quite well.

I'll add some further reports of the conference proceedings in the next few days.

Comment below on anything I've missed out or mis-represented...

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