Mike Cronin, CEO of Node-H, provides his insight into the state of the femtocell market. His company offers a turnkey femtocell protocol stack especially suitable for new entrants. We ask if there aren’t too many femtocell vendors already, and how the forthcoming interoperability testing program could affect the industry eco-systems.
Femto industry emerging from the “trough of despondency”
Venture Capitalists often quote the Gartner “hype cycle”, which describes how new inventions go through stages of euphoria, the despondency and finally come through to deliver on their promise.
The femto industry is currently working its way out of this trough. The recent spate of market launches is building momentum. It’s noticeable that the really major opcos (ATT, Vodafone, Verizon, DoCoMo etc.) are the ones who are rolling this out. The technology is proven and the focus is moving on to getting the price down.
All deployments to date (except SFR) are proprietary/single vendor systems – these can be quicker to market, but don’t create enough competitive price pressure . Operators are getting experience of running femto operationally, and have decided not to wait for the Iu-h standard before launching. Most want to see that implementation of Iu-h is coming before they make a major launch.
I’d expect operators to play hardball with their femtocell gateway vendors to encourage interoperability with many femtocell access points. In the long term we can expect most operators to have one femtocell gateway vendor (only a small number of gateways are required), but several femtocell access point suppliers.
What’s Node H been up to?
We’re a startup and have been developing a productised femtocell protocol stack since last year. Many of the team came from Optimay, which provided a similar type of software stack for GSM and 3G mobile phones that was incorporated into more than 500M devices. We also have considerable in-house femtocell expertise – for example, one of our founders was one of the first employees at Ubiquisys and made a major contribution to their success.
We came out of stealth mode in June 2009 and have been actively demonstrating high throughput and capacity on today’s available femtocell chipsets. We’ve shown 16 concurrent calls and 14Mbit/s data rates on the Percello chipset. The stack is also proven on picoChip hardware.
Our offering is a complete baseline software package which new femtocell vendors can rapidly get to working prototypes, with the ability for our customers to easily extend and personalise.
Who will your customers be? Aren’t there too many femtocell vendors already?
We think that very low target price points means that femtocells must be manufactured by Taiwanese, South Korean or other low cost vendors. They have the expertise and capability from manufacturing huge volumes of low cost CPE (customer premise equipment) such as modems and set top boxes.
We’ve also seen interest from Europe and other countries.
Today, these vendors don’t have the in-house know-how (from an end-to-end perspective) to build femtocells from scratch. They do have this for modems and other consumer products, but there’s a lot of specialist system knowledge needed to make femtocells work well. That’s what we aim to provide.
We’re aiming to deliver something as close to turnkey as possible which still allows for some customisation.
Strong competition from a larger number of vendors will drive prices down dramatically and encourage further innovation as each vendor strives to differentiate.
Will the operators accept Taiwanese products as part of their network?
Many operators are already very happy with Taiwanese companies – for example sourcing their DSL modems in bulk.
Taiwanese vendors themselves are very keen to build femtocells – you may have seen the recent press comment that more than six are actively planning to do so. http://www.digitimes.com/news/a20091127PD224.html I would expect a mix of product formats to appear, with standalone femtocells coming first. These vendors are very confident of the non-femtocell aspects themselves and would be looking to incorporate femtocell technology from 3rd parties into their product set.
Don’t you need to do extensive IOT testing with many handsets, such as reported by NEC in their field trials?
We’ve already found and fixed many issues with different phones through our testing to date. With many of our team being experts with 20 years experience in this field, we believe we can support our customers through this IOT period. Our tools are at least as good as anyone else’s, providing a full decode/trace and diagnostics to identify issues.
Our core intellectual property is a virtual verification environment which allows us to simulate the core network and femto gateway on one side and any number of handsets on the other, with the femtocell software under test in the middle. By using this for automated test we can catch errors at the earliest possible stage. We embed IOT experience into the tests so that we always make progress, rather than regress.
Are you part of a femtocell “ecosystem” yet?
We have a strong partnership with Percello and are now in discussions with several femtocell gateway vendors. For example, we’ve just announced successful IOT with femto gateway vendor Intellinet.
With the upcoming “plugfest” to test Iu-h, we can expect to see growing co-operation and interworking between the femtocell and femto-gateway vendors.