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.