Femtocell Opinion, comment and reviews

2011 Femtocell End of Year Report Card

reportcardWith the passing of another year, it’s time to reflect back on the achievements of the last 12 months and consider what awaits us next year. As usual, we compare progress with our predictions from this time last year and make some bold assertions of what’s to come.

How did ThinkFemtocell do?

First let's mark our own report card for 2011 using the predictions we forecast a year ago:

Prediction at end 2010

Accurate

Comment

Commercial launches continue with over 30 operators live by end 2011.

Correct

Commercial femtocell deployments more than doubled from 16 (end 2010) to 37 (end 2011) according to Informa.

Metro-Femto public outdoor femtocells deployed in at least 3 countries

 

Probably correct

Vodafone has deployed metro-femto in Qatar and I believe other operators have also trialled this approach, just not publicly announced it.

Integrated modem/femtocell products launched by at least 3 networks

 

Wrong

The link between femtocells and broadband wireline modems is perhaps not as strong as thought. Residential femtocells are still primarily being sold standalone. But Ubiquisys "Clip-On" USB femtocells seem to be popular with SFR in France.

 

First Iu-h compliant femtocell commercially deployed

Probably correct, Ubiquisys/NSN are probably using this.

There's perhaps room for debate on this point. Several vendors claim compliance with the standard and have successfully demonstrated interoperabiity at plugfests. It's by nomeans fully plug-and-play open marketplace, but the standard has been implemented and is becoming adopted.

Data capacity/quality becomes a differentiator for mobile network operators as data traffic and signalling continue to swamp networks


 

Correct

Consumers are becoming aware of variable data capacity/speed from different network operators. 

Security concerns about public Wi-Fi use cause widespread concern and are reported in press

Mostly Wrong

Despite coverage like this BBC video on the subject, consumers still not yet alarmed about wireless security concerns. But major websites could address this quickly if required - Facebook, Twitter and others could switch on encryption (HTTPS) to circumvent the issue.
Operators introduce a range of more attractive pricing options.

Correct

SFR offer their femtocells for free. Several others reduce their prices.

LTE femtocells not commercially deployed until 2013

 

Too early to say

Although NTT DoCoMo strongly requests LTE femtocells for use in 2012 and several vendors are already demonstrating products, the larger market for LTE remains some years away.

Overall: Continuing good progress and expansion into new areas.

2011 has seen another doubling of commercial femtocell operators, from 16 this time last year to some 37 (2010 saw doubling from 8 to 16).
Many of those in trials have evolved those into commercial operation.

A large proportion of these are not the traditional small residential femtocell application originally targetted. Instead, we are seeing more being used for enterprise (small and large) as well as femtocells working their way outdoors to public areas with high traffic.

We don't have enough information to accurately estimate this year's femtocell shipments but are confident that last year's estimate of 1.8 million was surpassed. Datapoints include the Femto Forum estimating more than 2.3 million femtocells were in use by mid year (excludes 2G CDMA femtocells) and Sprint USA confirmed they had passed the 500,000 milestone of installed femtocells.The momentum is building up for significant volumes to be shipped next year.

Further research and development continued towards:

  • larger capacity/lower cost femtocells
  • LTE femtocells
  • metro-femto (public outdoor)

Many other networks are actively preparing for launch, indicated by numerous contract awards and regulatory acceptance around the world.

Technical

The original 4 channel residential femtocell specification has been replaced with standard residential models supporting 8 channels and HSPA+ data rates of 21 Mbit/s, exceeding the speeds of most devices - even the latest iPhone 4GS only peaks at 14Mbit/s. Standard System-on-a-Chip devices make it just as cost effective to provide this uprated specification.

Further capacity is promised with several mainstream chip vendors entering the fray. TI, Freescale and Qualcomm have all introduced chipsets targetted at the femtocell and small cell market.

A separate group of femtocell vendors is emerging for the new 4G LTE standard. Initial products are likely to be single mode LTE only, but there is pent up demand for a dual mode 3G/LTE product which many of the latest chipsets would support.

Commercial product

The range of femtocell variants and formats continued to grow, with some extensive product ranges from OEMs such as SerComm (who offered a range of 15 different designs/format in February) and Tecom.

Most femtocells today are manufactured in the Far East by low cost ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers), who have the economies of scale to built large volumes at low cost.

Marketing

Few operators seem to have made a major marketing push on their femtocell offers. Many continue to focus these on dissatisfied customers as a retention tool. Top marks to SFR France, for offering these free to customers - something which Softbank Japan had pioneered.

The move to small cells

I believe this could change dramatically next year, but progress be more subtle because many will be installed by the network operators themselves. For example, Softbank has announced it will install 12,000 4G basestations during 2012 (that's more than the total number of basestations in many networks). SKT in Korea had an impressive schedule to install 10,000 femtocells during 2011.

Femtocell Report Card Summary

Subject

Mark

Comment

Technical

A

Few reported technical concerns and now actively deployed commercially by large network operators.

Standards

A

3G CDMA deployment guide published. Further progress on proving/demonstrating interoperability (plugfests)

Commercial

A

37 live network operators worldwide, with more to come.

Cost

B

Unit price within market requirement – actual price point determined by volume shipped, so perhaps not yet as low cost for residential market as operators would like. Integration costs now written down by those who have already installed/launched, meaning future expansion has little incremental gateway/integration cost.

Business Case

A

Wide recognition that small cells are the most cost effective approach for high capacity/high speed data service in high traffic areas.

Marketing

B

No change from last year. Femto Industry gets an A, but the operators deserve a C for keeping it so quiet.

Competitive

B

With most smartphones incorporating WiFi, will need to promote the benefits of femtocells to end users and ensure data pricing packages encourage use.

Predictions for 2012

  • HetNet and Small Cells become the buzzwords (somewhat superceding the term femtocell which remains more associated with residential products)
  • Commercial launches continue with over 50 operators live by end 2012.
  • Metro-Femto public outdoor femtocells deployed in at least 3 countries
  • First LTE femtocell commercially deployed during 2012
  • Dual mode 3G/LTE femtocells demonstrated, but not commercially deployed until 2013

I hope the above gives some food for thought. Meanwhile, for those celebrating Christmas and/or New Year, I wish you an refreshing break and success for 2012.

Have I missed something out? Misrepresented the situation? Add your views (can be anonymous) by filling in the form below.

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