Femtocell Innovation (Future Features)

January 13, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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It’s just a radio, right?!?

Actually, Femtocells are evolving quickly (even before they have been significantly deployed) to incorporate several categories of features. It reflects the hectic pace of competition and innovation in this space that will redefine how radio networks are deployed by operators … and how service is delivered to you and me. I’ve listed the features in the order that I anticipate that they will appear in the market (in chronological order):

Greater Efficiency
Initial deployments are using a (a) simple method of raw concentration using old switching technology (pre-Release 6 MSC) that will soon be superseded by a (b) more efficient method that concentrates only SIP signaling into modern softswitches (3GPP Release 6 “MSC Server”), not the bearer traffic. Predictably, he initial deployments will be simple and cost-effective, but the more efficient solutions will drastically increase the efficiency in the Operator’s network and therefore the cost savings. The GSM world is deploying the simple solution first, whereas the CDMA world is moving ahead quickly to deliver the SIP- and softswitch-based solution.

Self-Configuration
Millions of these devices will be deployed, so they had better be simple to install and configure. In fact, they need to be self-configuring. Currently, we’ve just got past the hurdle that Operators were concerned about the Femtocells interfering with existing macrocells. Self-configuration takes a much greater step, and ensures that the Femtocell automatically reflects the (changing) radio engineering of the network (neighbor cells, frequencies, handoffs permitted, handoffs not permitted, etc.). Like any access device, the Femtocell will grow up to incorporate a dynamic set of service policies. 

Applications
Many Home Zone apps are being considered and are most efficiently provided using the advanced, SIP/IMS approach (see Efficiency). “Operators in the US and Korea believe they will be moving to this second stage as early as late 2009, especially as the femtocell sector is now convincingly addressing the main operator fear about the technology, potential interference with other femtos and with macrocells.” reports Rethinking Wireless. Ubiquisys, in particular, has taken a leadership position in this area by developing its web-based services architecture, and has encouraged a growing eco-system of internet application partners through its association with the MIT’s Entrepreneurship Lab

Wireline Service, too
While you’re in the neighborhood, why not deliver wireline service, too, and pick up the $40/month revenue currently paid to the wireline provider? That’s the converged solution offered by T-Mobile (in their competing, UMA service, @Home) and other service providers (for more on the difference between UMA and Femto, see this post that compares Sprint’s Femto service vs. T-Mobile’s UMA service). It’s inexpensive to add to the Femtocell an ATA connection that provides wireline service. Customers in developed markets (US, Japan, Western Europe) will like this option, since they may be reluctant to “cut the cord” and this option allows them to continue using their corded phones in their home (how quaint!). Emerging markets could care less for this option: once you have your own, personal phone, why would you desire one that is tethered and connected to a wall? 

Capacity
In addition to Homes, Operators also seek a Femtocell solution for Enterprise locations–that will require a far greater capacity that for a residence. Although the initial Femtocell deployments are in the residence, the same benefits can be delivered to work locations. Huawei is already bringing such a product to market (in their uBro Enterprise AP that supports 16 simultaneous voice calls–4x the capacity of all other Femtocells that are targeted for the Home). This trend is called a “Super Femtocell” and it blurs the lines of what is currently considered a Femtocell vs. a Picocell. Linquistically, Femtocells might be considered to be smaller, but the real trend here is to bring the benefits of current Femtocells into locations that would have currently been served by Picocells (enterprise floor, building lobby, mall), where a lot of traffic needs to be served. 

Simplified Installation
Slightly different installation requirements exist for a residence unit vs. one that sits in a building lobby. Power over Ethernet (PoE) will be very attractive for enterprise deployments, allowing the Femtocell to be attached to the wall and brought into service with a single, Ethernet connection (borrowing a page from current, enterprise-grade, Wi-Fi gateways, such as Cisco’s Aironet product). Presto!

Home Network Gateway
Some operators are thinking that the Femtocell can be the center of a Home Network, including options such as Storage (Content cached for delivery, or for backup) and Wireless Networking (e.g., connecting to other devices using Wi-Fi). Cable providers (and other ISPs) like the Home Networking Gateway option, in order to deliver a complete, converged solution for a diverse set of client devices, as they are ISPs and are device agnostic. AT&T has been heard to specifically favor the Home Content Server option. John Stankey, President of Operations, commented that the product could be combined with a Wi-Fi gateway to develop “a media device that is used for storing content or distributing content. We would like to get to a gateway device that optimizes the home network” [as reported by FierceBroadbandWireless]. According to Airvana’s business development VP Paul Callahan, at least 90 percent of femtocell access points in four to five years will be integrated gateways. “That’s how we see the market and we’re seeing customer demand for that,” he adds. reports Unstrung.

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