Analysts Pin Future on Femtocells
June 15, 2007
UPDATED: Wi-Fi/cellular combos for extending networks are popular now, but femtocells may take the lead.
If you dont have mobile phone service that reaches your home or office, and you cant stand those old-fashioned, standard POTS phones, carriers will soon be offering you a couple of choices. One option is to put a femtocell in the dead-spot location -- it basically extends the cellular signal to your personal locations for in-home mobility and makes it powerful enough for data transmission, too. The other is to support a fixed/mobile convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular on one handset, so when it's out of tower range, you can talk on it using VoIP through a Wi-Fi router.
ABI Research says that of the two choices, FMC has an early lead, but thats not likely to continue. ABI anticipates that the subscriber level for femtocells -- A.K.A. "access point/mini/home base stations" -- will hit the same numbers as FMC by mid-2010, after which femtocells will skyrocket. [Corrected 6/15/2007.] Even a company heavy in the FMC world, Kineto Wireless, developer of the UMA technology used by some carriers for FMC, says UMA is a perfect backhaul technology to power femtocells.
Right now, FMC in the consumer market is limited in the U.S. to T-Mobile; theres more competition in Europe, where Orange, BT and others are giving it a try. But right now, ABI says Vodafone, SFR, Softbank and Sprint are all exploring their femtocell options. With their ability to work with any handset, and their potential for encouraging high data use, femtocells are very attractive when compared to VCC (Voice Call Continuity) and UMA-based Wi-Fi services, says ABI research director Stuart Carlaw.
What's lurking in the distance? WiMax, of course. Parks Associates said last month that the mobile version of the tech will be responsible for 8% of all mobile broadband in the world by 2012, about 88 million users, and you can bet by then that 4G tech will be found in many a phone.