Enterprises: UMA or Femto?

February 14, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Q: Which solution best serves an Enterprise or Campus: UMA or Femto?

A: UMA, then Femto

Summary: the best approach for an enterprise is “UMA first, Femto later”—the same recommendation that I’ve made for individual subscribers at Home, but for different reasons. Enterprises can start savings today with UMA. This allows the enterprise to reap significant savings now, with an Enterprise Mobility solution that can evolve and use Femtocells as they become available. No use waiting on a cool, new technology to save the day … especially when you have no idea on what benefits and pricing will be offered to you.

Our company agreed to deploy “UMA now, Femto later.” We easily came to this conclusion after a recent, enterprise-wide review of UMA vs. Femto with our IT and Telecom team for a moderately large, multi-location company (2,500 employees in large and small offices around the world). It is a relevant question for enterprises, with UMA available and Femto coming. We concluded that we should start the savings now for several, independent, use cases:

  1. At Work or On Campus: Reduce Mobile Charges, and potentially eliminate Wireline service (PBX/CENTREX/VoIP)
  2. When Roaming: Eliminate Roaming Charges
  3. At Home Office: Eliminate Wireline + LD Charges

Note: Any Enterprise can start using UMA for selective End Users, for each Use Case.

uma-vs-femto-for-enterprise-and-home

What Benefits Will Operators Provide With Femtocells?
Start saving with UMA today, as we do not know what the future holds. The undeniable truth is that Enterprise femtocells do not yet exist, we don’t know for sure when they will be deployed, or what benefits (if any) will be offered to the Enterprise by the Mobile Operator. So it makes no sense to put off savings, if your operator is offering them (as is our case in the U.S., with free, unlimied voice and data service using UMA over Wi-Fi).

Femtocells, when available for the Enterprise, will be welcomed by the End User but will present new concerns for the Enterprise:

  • It is easier for the End User to use Femto—no change is required (versus learning how to use UMA over Wi-Fi).
    To eliminate any learning curve, I suppose that the handset could be pre-configured for the user to use the (a) enterprise WLAN and/or (b) Home WLAN, but that is still a manual process that is not fun to consider for 1,000 handsets. I believe that this step (and others) can be automated for some devices, such as automatically configuring BlackBerry devices with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). However …
  • It is not easier for the Enterprise to use Femto—many changes are required.
    As I discussed with my IT organization, it requires a lot of carrier- and equipment-specific work for the carrier and IT organization to integrate the femtocells with the Enterprise routing and power, resulting in a carrier-specific configuration that locks the Enterprise to a single carrier. The enterprise will, quite literally, be an extension of the Mobile Operator’s Network, with lots of femtocells attached to their walls and routers. I worked for AT&T Mobility when we pioneered this solution (“Wireless Office Service,” using an earlier, more costly and complex microcell technology), and once installed, it is likely to stay in place due the inconvenience and cost of installing a new solution. Enterprise Mobility solutions are very “sticky” (and therefore extremely attractive for the Mobile Network Operator to lock in high-ARPU subscribers).

Eventually, for nearly all of us, Enterprise femtocells will be a wonderful thing for End Users on campus, just as they are in the Home. However, the technology is not there yet. Nearly all femotcells are low-capacity (up to 4 simultaneous calls), suitable for the residence. Only Huawei has a product that supports significant capacity (16 simultaneous calls) [see Light Reading report] and the first Mobile Network trials are starting (by Orange/FT and AT&T Mobility) [see Femto Trials and Deployments]. We simply can not predict certain, near-term success for enterprise femtocells with the confidence that we embrace Home femtocells. And, most importantly for enterprises, we will have to wait and see what service plans and benefits are offered to enterprises that allow their buildings to be an extension of the operator’s radio network. Will the mobile operator generously offer free, unlimited, on-campus voice and data service (as is offered with most UMA plans today)? Or will the operator be stingy, and offer no cost savings (as does Verizon Wireless with their “Network Extender” Home Femtocell, requiring the End User to purchase the unit, and offering no discounted/free usage)?

Conclusion: Reap savings now using free voice and data (using UMA over Wi-Fi) in the Enterprise just as at Home.

UPDATE: What Qs should an Enterprise ask regarding in-building wireless? Which technology would you deploy? Check out the excellent discussion on this topic, “Six Questions for Enterprise IT departments deploying Femtocells” at ThinkFemtocell. David & I discuss the pros and cons of Femtocell and UMA deployment in the Enterprise.

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