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Femtocells overtake conventional base stations in 3G

Femto Forum sees devices entering the residential mainstream as the products extend their reach into public access


Published: 23 June, 2011

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At this week's Femtocells World Summit in London, the Femto Forum announced that the tiny base stations now outnumber conventional 3G base stations. This marks the acceptance that small cells have entered the mainstream as indoor devices, as they start to penetrate the public access network too, improving coverage and capacity at low cost.

According to research by Informa, there are now 2.3m 3G femtocells deployed worldwide, compared to 1.6m 3G macrocells and microcells. Operator roll-outs were up by 60% in the last quarter, the fastest growth rate seen to date, numbering 31 deployments. Commercial support is seen at eight of the top 10 global cellcos by revenue. The research group forecasts that 48m femtocell access points will be in use by 2014 as the technology expands into the enterprise and the public network, with 60% of operators surveyed saying that small cells will be more important than macrocells in LTE.

Several femtocell players were making announcements at the London event, including Ubiquisys, which put the focus on its supplier deal with Broadcom (via its Percello acquisition), after its recent newer alliances with Texas Instruments and Intel for the outdoor network space. The UK specialist has developed a fully integrated femtocell home gateway with Broadcom, which will allow operators to deploy multiple services such as fixed broadband, mobile and entertainment applications from one device in the home.

"Broadcom's baseband silicon is the mainstay of our residential and SMB femtocells which are deployed globally, providing class-leading performance, energy efficiency and affordability," said Ubiquisys CEO Chris Gilbert in a statement. "This new development signals a new maturity in the femtocell market, where indoor mobile becomes an affordable, integrated capability in addition to a standalone device."

Meanwhile, there was a revived focus on femtocell applications at the show, as highlighted by a collaboration between Telecom Italia, Alcatel-Lucent and Accenture. The partners announced the industry's first standards-based software development kit (SDK) for the creation of femtocell applications, harnessing the Femto Forum's API Specification initiative. Initially, the SDK targets Android phones and supports standard Java APIs.

Also on the software side, Continuous Computing announced Trillium Femtotality, a portable software suite which includes turnkey femtocell application software. This aims to help network equipment providers to create femto access points with lower cost and time to market, even if they are not traditional players in the mobile space. Femtotality comes pre-integrated with Continuous's Trillium 3G and LTE protocol software, and includes radio resource management and SON (self-organizing network) capabilities along with OA&M (operations, administration and management) supporting the TR-069 and TR-196 standards.

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