UMA, then Femto

October 31, 2008 at 2:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,

These are two answers to the same question:
How can mobile operators deliver network capacity and coverage in-building, at lower cost?

I like UMA near-term, and Femtocell after several years. My bet is on UMA, near-term, as the difficulties of wide-scale use of Femto appear to be quite significant-beyond the abilities of current solutions for RF planning. In the long-term, Femto may be wonderful, but only after vendors and operators figure out how to dynamically deliver new femtocells, recognize (and update) their location, as well as operate and maintain these in concert. Both solutions are available today, but UMA is proving easier to deploy while LTE has greater, long-term benefit.

Sprint AIRAVE Femtocell: Samsung Ubicell

Linksys WRTU54G-TM

T-Mobile UMA Wi-Fi Router: Linksys WRTU54G-TM

Mobile operators will soon need solutions such as UMA and Femto, as they will be pressured to deliver far greater data capacity without far greater compensation. Costs are rising faster than revenue. Several studies suggest that operators will need to deliver 100 times the data capacity, without comparable increases in revenue. Accordingly, operators will need to find innovative solutions such as radio and handset, which are their largest, areas of per-subscriber expenditure.

Both UMA and Femtocell offer considerable savings to the Mobile Operator, and some benefits for the subscriber:


The big concern about UMA is that it is available only in selected handsets(T-Mobile offers less than 10 that are compatible with their @Home and Hotspot @Home service). Some operators (such as Orange) like UMA’s benefits so much that they are pushing for more UMA-capable handsets. To be successful, subscribers must not be penalized as a result of using a UMA service (such as @Home), so there will have to be a wide variety of handsets delivered with UMA and Wi-Fi. Getting UMA into handsets is easy, over time, but the likelihood of adding Wi-Fi in large percentages is a bet. Some forecasts show that as many as 50% of handsets could include Wi-Fi by 2012. Until those handsets are widely available, operators will have to pay for special features and handsets.

The big concern with Femto is network integration: the operator must integrate numerous, small cells placed randomly in buildings into their highly-tuned, macrocellular network. This is a formidable task, and has held up the widescale use of femtocells. Not only must the manufacturer miniaturize an existing base station (and deliver it in a form factor that the subscriber can just plug in and connect to their Internet service), but the operator then must identify the location of the cell (for 911 Emergence Services) and integrate its footprint of service with all surrounding cells. Recall that UMA does not have these formidable problems: cheap Wi-Fi routers work fine (no miniaturized GSM Base Station required), and the UMA Wi-Fi devices do not interfere with the existing cellular network, so no radio planning is required.

Data Traffic Growing Faster than Revenues
Operators expect to be stressed in the near future to deliver more data for less, as subscribers will consume far more data capacity (as all services move to IP) but they are not expected to pay much more. Thus, operators need to diminish major cost components, such as handset, radio, and backhaul. UMA and Femto are right on target to achieve this. Advanced network architectures, such as HSPA+ and LTE also promise far greater efficiency, delivering data bits for a fraction of their current cost. How fast could traffic grow? Some forecast that “The appetite for data could increase 100-fold,” [Tom Keathley, VP of Technology and Standards, “HSPA/LTE Workshop,” 2/2008] as illustrated below [3GAmericas and Rysavy Research]. Consider the recent growth examplified by the data use of iPhone subscribers, with vastly greater use of Internet, email, YouTube videos, etc. “Global mobile data revenues will increase 77% from 2007 to 2012, but global mobile data traffic will grow far faster, increasing more than 1000% over the same period.” [Informa] [see also the blog report from Mike Roberts, Principal Analyst, Informa] Operators will be squeezed, so they must find areas to reduce costs.


Explosive Data Growth Forecast

UMA and Femto: A Marriage of Fixed + Mobile
It is possible that UMA and Femto create an opportunity for the fixed operators to get back in the mobility game, if only as a bit player. Check out the excellent, insghtful article by InCode, Sangit Rawlley, on how fixed operators can still benefit from this transition and complement mobile operators.

Further Reading: There’s a fine overview (by Peter Thornycroft or Aruba Networks) of Femtocells in the recent issue of Wireless Design Magazine, that reviews the technology, standards (or lack of), benefits, and barriers to deployment. FierceWireless continue to provide very good coverage of this (and other emerging technologies).



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