Femtocell Reference Designs
The primary origination of each femtocell design starts with the specialist chipset designers. Pioneers such as picoChip , who can claim to have enabled the first generation of 3G femtocells, originally start with general purpose telecom equipment chipsets and collaborate with software houses to create a proof-of-concept which demonstrates the functionality in a working model. These are published as reference designs, for which application notes are widely available, and shown at trade shows.
3G Femtocell Products
These reference designs are then built upon by femtocell vendors, who package up the hardware into attractive consumer devices. Considerable additional software "smarts" are required to complete the full femtocell functionality, so that the product is fully self-installing, reliable and does not interfere with an operators existing outdoor network. This additional software is the primary differentiator between femtocell vendors. Some (such as Airvana, Ubiquisys, Radioframe) only provide the standalone femtocell itself, others (such as Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, ip.access) can also provide the femto-gateway and management systems.
Femtocell Integration by the Network Operator
These products are then integrated into the operators network by systems integrators with local presence. Usually lab testing is followed by field trials where hundreds of "friendly users" (who may be operator employees) try out the service on a realistic basis.
Once the operator's marketing department has worked out the format and most appropriate way to bring the product to market (i.e. the format of the offer to the customer - not just price, but rules, features, etc.), the operator will need to invest in a significant amount of backoffice system upgrades. This includes updating the billing, customer care and operational systems so that the service can be bought, billed, switched on/off and customer care teams can view the status of each customer's service. The operations team will need management systems to identify faults, performance and security. All departments, from sales, marketing, operations, billing and customer care, will need training and education about the new product.
For operators who also offer the fixed line broadband service over which the femtocell is connected, then these staff and their systems may also require upgrade.
Different technologies are at different stages of the Femtocell Product Lifecycle
2G femtocells, particularly CDMA, have been commercially in service for some months. 3G femtocells have been in trials and are only just now becoming commercially live. LTE femtocell reference designs have only just recently become available.
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