The Five Femtocell Ecosystems

EcosystemNetwork operators typically buy their major network equipment from a small number of large equipment suppliers. For macrocells, the vast majority of the market is served by Ericsson, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens. These companies can provide a full range of services, including not just installation but financing, complete network build, and ongoing management. There has been a growing trend towards outsourcing the entire radio network operation to such companies.

In the femtocell industry you again find a small number of solution providers with whom the major operators will do business. These provide the reassurance, scale and range of services to reduce risk. Network operators seeking to trial or launch femtocells will typically have gone through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process with several of them. There are also a few smaller new entrants who have bypassed this arrangement due to special circumstances. Whether the mainstream approach will change as the market matures remains to be seen.

Let’s look at who they are and how these ecosystems operate:

Alcatel-Lucent can claim to have the largest number of femtocell networks commercially live today. They’ve developed their own solution including the femtocell gateway, management system and femtocell software. The femtocell hardware devices are designed by several smaller companies to fit a reference design. This has increased the range of products available and allowed the cost engineering of the high volume consumer product manufacturers to be brought into play. With hardware reference designs for both Picochip and Broadcom now available, operators could potentially go directly to OEM/ODMs and have them build a product to their own requirements.

Cisco would claim to have deployed the largest femtocell deployment at ATT Wireless, which is estimated to be many hundreds of thousands of units by now. Their femtocell products, such as the 3G Microcell, are based on underlying technology from ip.access. While there aren’t any other publicly announced network operator deployments, Cisco are rumoured to be trialling elsewhere and also to have tested with other femtocell vendors.

Huawei don’t tend to reveal too much detail and certainly give the impression that most if not all of their technology is built inhouse. Although they are known to participate at interoperability plugfests, there are few public announcements of interoperability with any other vendor’s access points. This one from 2009 with Ubiquisys at T-Mobile is fairly unique.

Nokia-Siemens Networks, by contrast, champion the open standards route. They don’t make femtocells themselves, instead investing in the femtocell gateway, and had previously worked with Airvana who later dropped out of the 3G UMTS market. Publicly working with Ubiquisys, ADB and others, the benefits of their open standards approach may prove attractive for some operators.

NEC have invested in a competency centre which has been involved in many trials and commercial launches around the world. Their solution combines products from several companies, but has principally used Ubiquisys for the femtocells.

There are one or two other smaller companies which do have the capability to supply  complete end-to-end solution, including:

  • Contela (live at SK Telecom)
  • Argela (trialling at Turk Telecom)
  • ip.access (commercially deployed at many enterprises for 2G and 3G)

There may be others who have developed a complete end-to-end system, but none I know of that is commercially live yet.

In the CDMA market, the main suppliers are:

  • Samsung (who provide a completely proprietary/non-standards based solution for both 2G and 3G for Verizon[2G/3G] and Sprint [2G only]) and
  • Airvana/Tatara (who provide a 3GPP2 compliant 3G only CDMA product, as used by Sprint).

I'd say it’s far too early to say how the LTE femtocell market is going to shape up.

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Comments   

#1 Keith Day said: 
It’s not that simple these days, and begs the question – is a home femtocell a piece of network equipment or a consumer electronics device?

For other home broadband equipment, such as DSL routers and set-top boxes, operators work directly with several consumer electronics manufacturers (ODMs) to design and produce devices that are tailored to their customers and supplied at the lowest possible cost.

The ODM model is already well-establishe d with femtocells too, and several operators have launched without following an end to end ecosystem. Instead they commission femto home broadband equipment direct from the ODM – which for them is business as usual.

An overall systems integrator/ solution provider will always be vital to a femto project, but the ODM model and the advent of open standards like Iuh enables operators to independently choose a mix of femto devices from a range of device vendors.

The market has already evolved beyond the idea that an operator’s choice of network equipment should dictate the femtocells offered to consumers.
0 Quote 2011-07-01 11:18
 
#2 ThinkFemtocell said: 
@Keith: I'd agree that the femtocell marketplace is about to get a lot more complex - what I tried to document was the situation today (based on what's publicly visible). Once the Iu-h standard and interoperabilit y widely accepted, then additional equipment (especially residential) will also be bought directly from ODMs and others. I guess the point I'm making is that initial femtocell solutions tend to be bought through a small number of the large vendors mentioned, with a few exceptions. These will then be expanded through their own ecosystem suppliers, and in the medium/long term through a wider range.

It will be interesting to watch the market evolve over the next year or two and see this play out...
0 Quote 2011-07-02 09:58
 
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