More news and comment from the second day of Femtocell World Summit in London.
Vodafone announced they are actively running three types of femtocell operation:
- a residential femtocell solution in the UK (branded as Sure Signal)
- an enterprise femtocell solution in Spain
- a metro-femto femtocell for public areas in Qatar (quietly in operation for some time)
They use Huawei for Enterprise and Alcatel-Lucent for residential and metro-femto.
Their SureSignal product manager explained many of the facets of launching the service which had been overcome (some causing a few sleepless nights). They’ve “gone large” with this solution, but weren’t going to give any specific figures of units shipped. [Some delegates agreed with me that there are certainly more SureSignal femtocells in use today than the estimated 30,000 macrocells in Vodafone UK network]. The service is a resounding success with 76% of customers happy to recommend the service to others. The SureSignal page on their website has had over 30 million page impressions resulting from extensive multi-media advertising campaigns. Volumes are growing – “what we sold in a month, we now sell in a week”. Kenny Graham, Head of New Technology and Innovation at Vodafone Group, painted a strong case for wider deployment now that “the technology is proven”.
Cisco compared and contrasted Wi-Fi with femtocells, highlighting the ease of use, simple setup, ability to deliver services such as SMS/MMS which can’t be done without installing special software on the handset. He said that Cisco have changed their standpoint on the subject of standalone versus integrated femtocells – they’ve seen difficulties in achieving "zero-touch" installation for integrated femtocells (i.e those which include broadband wireline modems and other consumer electronics). They forecast that we will see integration in due course, but much more work is required.
Andy Tiller from ip.access explained why it has taken so long for the femtocell market to take off. He ran through a detailed list of technical challenges which have been overcome, requiring significantly different software algorithms than those found in outdoor macrocells. Radio resource management needs to handle how (and when) the handset actively sniffs out other cells, ensures that handout to the external macrocell doesn’t happen inadvertently (resulting in so-called ping pong behaviour), and caters for the variable nature of DSL broadband when transmitting at high data rates. Backhaul, operational, provisioning aspects also contribute to the complexity of a solution that must appear straighforward to the end user.
Percello shared their product roadmap. They announced sales of some 300,000 parts during Q2 and challenged the industry to match a future BOM price point of $75. They’ve mainly been known as suppliers of Ubiquisys, but now have some 15 customers including 3 new ones this month. Their largest design supports 64 users, but they’ve chosen to do this by cascading chips rather than just making them bigger. They recommend not using MIMO to save cost. Shlomo Gadot, their CEO, told me he thought the volume market for LTE femtocells was several years away – we’re at the same stage as 3G was 10 years ago - so I suspect they’ll continue to focus on UMTS/HSPA meantime. [picoChip/Continuous Computing were demoing their LTE femtocell reference design and Texas Instruments/MimoOn also have one]
TIM Italy, who have both fixed and mobile services, have extensively trialled femtocells and appear to be ready to launch a commercial service. They ran through a long list of aspects they’ve addressed in their trials, including:
- preventing femtocells being moved by locking them to static IP addresses
- authenticating the femtocell using a SIM card, which can be swapped to a replacement box in case of faults
- Macro to femto handin has been successfully tested and could be used for a small number of VIP customers where demanded
- Legal intercept and emergency call routing
In the future they see a need for integration with local IP-PBX, so that calls don’t need to be routed half way around Italy and back when talking to others in the same office building.
Alcatel-Lucent seem to be on a roll, saying they’d taken 6 orders for commercial femtocell deployments in the last 6 weeks. Their Bell Labs research team had studied the costs of femtocell and macrocell rollout, concluding that “there is no debate that femto is the best option for home and enterprise”. Outdoor deployments in high traffic areas of metro-femto can be more than 50% cheaper than providing similar coverage using macrocells.
Coleman Parkes, who had been commissioned by the Femto Forum to conduct primary research on consumers of the femtocell value proposition, reported their findings. These involved some 1100 participants, so should be statistically valid. Overwhelmingly coverage had the greatest interest by a factor of 2 or 3 times – it’s extremely important and influences the overall satisfaction/churn rates and expectation. Femtocells are the “ground zero” of the operator’s business – it’s about dropped calls more than anything else. Where coverage is poor, 44% said they would stay with their current operator if they could have a femtocell, 35% said they’d consolidate all users in the household to the same operator. Popular value added services included family locator, virtual home phone number and photo sync. Perhap surprisingly, mobile phone subscribers who today use Wi-Fi the most were also the most strongly interested in a femtocells [maybe because they comprise the most technically savvy and recognise the benefits]. When asked how much they’d pay for one, consumers overwhelmingly wanted to buy the femtocell outright and were prepared to pay $35 to $96 for it; but when asked how much they’d pay as a monthly fee, a range of $12/month to $28/month was seen as acceptable.
Qualcomm are just sampling their new femtocell chipset this month. The four chips are physically identical for both CDMA and UMTS technologies – just different firmware/software being used in each case. These should be commercially available before the end of the year, and are being incorporated into Airwalk’s CDMA femtocell designs. (ZTE have also publicly signed up to use the chip). Qualcomm believe there is still work to do to address interference with macrocells operating at the same frequency, and they’ve incorporated significant interference mitigation technology to do so. They see the industry needing to move from today’s coverage proposition to a wider capacity solution, meaning a shared femtocell deployment.
Femtocell Forum announced their annual awards at the end of the gala dinner. The judging panel was independent of the Forum (except for the last 2 awards). Only one company was either too pessimistic (or too busy doing deals elsewhere) to be present to accept theirs. It was good to see many of those who’ve worked so hard towards the success of the industry receive acknowledgement. I’m sure there are many unsung heros behind the scenes too.
The categories and winners were:
Residential Femtocell Access Point Design and technology innovation
Greater Femtocell design and technology innovation
Ubiquisys (With Public Wireless Colo-Node)
Femtocell Network Element design and technology innovation
Femtocell application concept
Progress in Commercial Deployment
Contirbution to Femtocell Standards
Continuous Computing/picoChip (for LTE femtocell reference design)
Vodafone (for SureSignal)
Individual contribution to femto forum activities
Gordon Mansfield (AT&T)
TRaC Telecoms and Radio (for organising the first Plugfest)
Other interesting snippets from the show:
- Argela, a Turkish company, are trialling their new Iu-h standards based femtocell with Turk Telecom who run both fixed and mobile networks in the country with something around 15 million customers. As third largest mobile operator, they don't have the best coverage so femtocells will help differentiate. They expect to move into commercial deployment in the coming months, reporting that they’ve succesfully interworked with three different femtocell gateways using the open Iu-h interface.
- ip.access were showing off their energy saving application that switches on and off lights etc. as the first/last person enters/leaves the building.
- Continuous Computing showed me their LIPO (Local IP Offload) demo. It’s a pre-standard implementation and does require the user to configure a different APN on the handset (If you don’t know what the APN is, you already appreciate this is not for average consumers). But it does direct all data traffic from the femtocell straight to the internet, avoiding any data charges that currently apply for femtocell data use.
- One delegate works for a company that’s already putting 3G Femtocells into aircraft – let’s hope this encourages more people to use email and facebook rather than making loud voice calls.
- The Femto Forum is planning another plugfest event before the end of 2010 to focus on the TR.069 management interface.
- Some delegates told me that they were so busy with business meetings they didn’t have time to attend much of the conference; the event continues to be a great place for networking; some have come from as far as New Zealand to be here.
Again, apologies for omitting details of many other presentations and interesting conversations during the day.
More tomorrow, as the show wraps up.
(Did you already read the Femtocell World Summit 2010 - Day One report?)