Published: 18 February, 2009
Femtocells are one of the buzziest areas of focus at this year's MWC, with the Femto Forum creating a whole 'femto zone' to show off the growing number of devices available, in an ever growing array of shapes, colors and sizes. The biggest news in the segment came from Qualcomm, which has gone from sceptic to convert in the space of six months and decided to launch a product that can support CDMA2000 or WCDMA. And T-Mobile became the latest European operator to announce commercial trials, to start in Germany around mid-year.
The operator, according to Unstrung, has tested the miniature base stations for residential applications with its employees in Germany, Poland and the UK, though it is looking to keep far tighter control of the devices than many carriers envisage, with no sales through retail stores.
Bernhard Scholl, head of T-Mobile's coverage and transmission design, told the news service that he would rather wait for Release 8 devices for large scale deployments, and for various network quality issues to be fully addressed - which implies a 'soft' launch period of at least a year. T-Mobile tested femtocells from three suppliers, though its final choice has not been named.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm said last summer that it was interested in femtocells, but preferred to ensure it was really convinced of the model before committing to a chip product, instead working on the management software aspect.
Now it has been persuaded to take the plunge, and has announced that it will add 3G femtocell designs to its roadmap with the Femtocell Station Modem (FSM) chipsets for HSPA+ and CDMA2000 up to Rev B. The chipsets will include baseband functions, network listen and integrated RF for all major wireless bands, and true to its 2008 theme, Qualcomm says it will also differentiate itself with some "innovative techniques" it has created to mitigate interference between the macro network and the femtocells. The endorsement of such a major player certainly adds to the growing credibility behind this technology, and promises to help create the economies of scale that the mass market will require, though it will also reshape a nascent sector that has been dominated by specialist silicon companies like picoChip.