Although I wasn’t able to attend this month’s China femtocell event in Beijing, I’ve captured a few details from those who were there. This brief report also provides some insight into current femtocell activities in the country.
The event attracted several hundred delegates and was very busy on the first day. There were many sponsors with good vendor representation. The level of interest and market size has prompted the Femto Forum to open their first branch office in the country, it is linked to the Chinese state research organization BII who are taking responsibility for setting it up.
The network operators participated
All three national network operators presented at the event. Some felt that there was little new information, repeating a lot said the previous year. This may of course be to avoid releasing commercially sensitive details as operators move beyond the initial testing stage. China Telecom, the CDMA operator, provided a speaker from their R&D division who talked about the technology rather than how or when they might deploy it.
China Unicom looks at Enterprise femtocells first
Through unofficial channels, I’ve heard that China Unicom (the GSM/UMTS operator) are focusing first on enterprise femtocells, especially where they have to provide good coverage. Residential femtocells rollout seems to be deferred. Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent seem to be the major vendors in their trials across several provinces to date.
China Mobile warming to TD-SCDMA femtocells
China Mobile (the GSM/TD-SCDMA operator) seems to have adopted a more positive attitude towards femtocells recently and are keen to learn more, especially about deployment issues. Vendors are optimistic. FemTel (who had a press release with picoChip this month) and Bravo (who have a range of other RF products) were the two major TD-SCDMA femtocell vendors demonstrating at the show.
TD-LTE femtocells in development
Continuous Computing were conspicuous throughout the event, promoting their LTE femtocell software which supports both TD and FDD modes. TD mode is championed by China and may succeed in other countries because it can fit into smaller gaps in spectrum. They announced a new sale of their TD-LTE femtocell software.
Although there is no fully commercial femtocell service in China, the turnout for this event shows there remains high level of interest. Whether China Unicom focus on the enterprise customers and defer a full scale launch to residential consumers remains to be seen. China Mobile has proven abilities to launch products with massive volumes in short timeframes – if they wanted to do so with TD-SCDMA femtocells nationwide, I have no doubt they could do so quickly.
Within the local Chinese market itself, the main vendors seem to be Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent (for UMTS) alongside Bravo and FemTel (for TD-SCDMA). Digimoc (who I’ve mentioned in the past) weren’t at the conference.
Other low cost ODMs who might manufacture femtocells for other well known brands, were not conspicuous although may have been present. The femtocell industry in China may well become a significant size as the femtocell industry continues to grow both in China and abroad.