Interview with Prof Simon Saunders, Chair Femto Forum, Jan 2011

simon-saunders-2011 Prof. Simon Saunders, Chairman of the Femto Forum, sets out the Forum’s agenda for the year ahead and explains their newly agreed vision statement. Within their extensive work program for 2011, there will be more focus on end consumer attitudes, deployment issues and applying femtocell technology for the wider benefit of us all.

Looking back on 2010

A major milestone was undoubtedly when the number of femtocells in the US (now over 350,000) exceeded the number of cellsites (estimated at 256,000) at the end of 2010. We can expect to see femtocells outnumber cellsites worldwide during 2011. We are moving into the next stage of scale, with many live networks growing from (say) 10,000 femtocells to 100,000 and beyond. We can expect this to become a more common occurrence, and will identify and deal with any additional issues this causes.

At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US, my impression was that, whereas last year perhaps 2 out of 10 visitors knew what a femtocell was, this year some 6 or 7 out of 10 did. Many already have one and understood the implications. We ran a competition where visitors could dream up new femtocell applications, and generally found good interest and engagement with the participants from all sides of the electronics industry.

The new Femto Forum Vision Statement

“Deliver great mobile experience to 1 Billion users via femto technology”

The three elements of this vision are:

1)    Focus on users

It is important that end users feel the benefit of what this new technology provides. The goal of the Femto Forum isn’t going to be measured primarily by the number of femtocells shipped, or look only at the advantages to service providers. We need to articulate the benefits to end users so that they recognise and enthuse about the difference that femtocell technology makes.

2)    Wide appeal

We won’t make a difference to 1 Billion users if we limit ourselves to those with good wireline broadband but poor indoor mobile voice coverage. Although this is an important use case for today's femtocell deployment, we expect the technology to apply to public access use too – thus making a difference to a much larger section of the population.

3)    Apply the whole range of femtocell benefits

There is a whole gamut of femtol technology “goodies” that are useful to the industry. Many of the problems addressed for mass market residential femtocells can be applied elsewhere, such as:

  • Scalability
  • Automated configuration and optimisation
  • Rapid, cost effective deployment
  • Efficient use of available backhaul
  • High capacity density and user experience

LTE technology won’t be enough to meet data traffic capacity demands alone – small cells are also very much needed. We’re not attempting to enforce boundaries between pico/femto/micro domains, instead we want to evangelise the use of chipsets and clever software which embody femto technology for a wider range of uses.

Looking ahead into 2011

The Femto Forum discussed and agreed their priorities for the year ahead at our December meeting, defining eight principal topics in the work program.

1)    Encourage Operator Deployments (identifying motivations, overcoming obstacles, spreading best practice)

We’ve seen strong commercial deployments throughout the year and will see plenty of growth from new operators coming to market in 2011. The Forum encourages best practice sharing between operators – we held a deployment workshop for opertors still considering whether to deploy femtocells prior to last month’s Miami Femto Forum meeting, supported by operator members who have already deployed (with some content presented by vendors).

2)    Consumer Attitudes and Value Proposition

We continue to track, support and understand consumer attitudes. This extends our previous focus on the operator business case by extending research into consumer aspects, such as customer segmentation. Our recent research conducted by Parkes Associates clarified that home coverage is the key driver today (except in Japan where it’s about fast, reliable data). Some 60% of households are interested in having a femtocell. We’ve barely scratched the surface with our initial analysis of raw data from over 6000 consumers in 6 countries. This will allow us to state new elements of the value proposition for end users as we dissect the data further.

3)    Metro/Outdoor Cells

We will continue to focus on extending the application of femtocells for outdoor, public access use including so-called metro-femtocells. Aspects include design of open access, mobility and how to blend macro/femto networks together.

4)    Integrated Femtocell/Wi-Fi Networks

This is quite a new area for the Forum. We see greater complementarity (sic) between both and want to make this definition both real and specific. There are already designs for combined femtocell/Wi-Fi products to be commercially launched soon. We will be looking at how femtocells combined with Wi-Fi could improve the overall customer experience, such as through use of licenced spectrum, authentication and by not being always switched on. We’ll also look at cases where Wi-Fi might benefit so that operators needn't make a choice between Wi-Fi and femtocell integration.

5)    LTE Femtocells

Within the Forum, we have a special interest group for LTE femtocells chaired by Vodafone. It has a well laid out workplan including:

  • To clarify a subset of preferred architectural options from the current standards, which have accommodated many different permutations.
  • Define a broad product configuration, which will include a high level generic product specification to help enable enable economies of scale in procurement.
  • Promote a stronger emphasis on public access LTE femtocells

We don’t think that LTE femtocells will be far behind the LTE macrocell rollout which is currently underway. With some operators, this is limited only by lack of product availability from vendors. The long-term signs for this market are very good.

6)    Enterprise Femtocells

Probably the largest single area of activity for the Forum today. There are a number of technical questions about the target system architecture being resolved, such as whether to take a distributed or centralised approach, where radio resource management should be managed and interoperability between vendor equipment.

7)    Service Enablement

We are looking at this not purely linked to specific femtocell applications and have progressed a long way in developing a set of APIs. We don’t plan to “re-invent the wheel” on these and have taken the approach of working with other industry bodies to align with mature and widely adopted techniques. There is wide consensus about this approach within the Forum.

8)    Open Interoperability

Following on from our interoperability plugfest co-hosted with ETSI last year, we have our second in February and third in March. These events are only one strand of our IOT (InterOperability Test) work. We want to define a clear baseline set of configurations and options with minimum functionality for IOT and have engagement from all sides to do so. For the longer term, we have looked at defining minimum compliant functionality, a test/approval program and certification.

You can also read an earlier interview with Simon below:
Interview with Prof Simon Saunders, Chair Femto Forum, February 2010

and other interviews from across the Femtocell Industry here

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