Femtocell frenzy is how one paper described the Mobile World Congress Show in Barcelona last week, but at the Portable Computer and Communications Association meeting held Tuesday and Wednesday in Plano, Texas, the solution to the fixed part of fixed-to-mobile convergence seemed to be Wi-Fi. As […]

Femtocell frenzy is how one paper described the Mobile World Congress Show in Barcelona last week, but at the Portable Computer and Communications Association meeting held Tuesday and Wednesday in Plano, Texas, the solution to the fixed part of fixed-to-mobile convergence seemed to be Wi-Fi.

As Tammy Wheat, director of Ericsson’s enterprise solutions division, noted, Wi-Fi is the solution of choice among enterprise vendors because it gives them the illusion of control and because it’s “free.” Of course, configuring a wireless network that’s robust enough to deliver quality voice over cell phones is expensive, but it is something the corporate IT guys can take care of. By contrast, femtocells are essentially equipment provided by the carrier that rides on the incoming broadband network.

George Fry, director of technology alignment at Nokia, echoed the idea that Wi-Fi would be more acceptable than femotocells in both corporate and consumer households because so much other data is transmitted via Wi-Fi. That makes offering converged services easier. It will also be a key to getting people to switch from the cellular network to a Wi-Fi one. Cost might be a factor, but with free mobile-to-mobile minutes and new unlimited voice plans, Fry thinks other incentives will be necessary.

Given that many of the big chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have failed to get excited about femotocells, it begs the question of how large a market it will be.

  1. The main impediment to faster adoption of WiFi enabled solutions (UMA for one) has been the handsets. Their availability is still limited and the ones that are there mostly are a hog of battery time in the WiFi mode. The infrastructure gear is much further along. The ubiquity of 802.11 in the enterprise and residence cannot be argued. Femtocells on the other hand work with a larger spectrum of available handsets and provide a similar consumer experience. However, the infrastructure is still too nascent. The infrastructure is now in over 15 operator trials. Also to note that the current focus is on the femto in the home and not the enterprise. This may change over time. Does’nt the unlicensed WiFi have an edge over since Femtocells work with the licensed spectrum? Wireless 101 – who owns the spectrum calls the shots.

  2. The flat-rate plans makes putting WiFi on handsets an load-off instead of a liability for carriers. Without a flat-rate plan, as a carrier, its better for users to use their network so they can nickel and dime you for every bit of usage. With a flat-rate plan, they would rather you use your own broadband connection so they can keep their lower their network load. WiFi is definitely the way to go and it certainly makes FMC a lot more feasible both inside the home and at work.


  3. Markus Goebel’s Tech News Comments Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Wifi drains the battery so much that it’s only for making phone calls, not to receive them. Don’t try to be connected all the time! Your call will drop when you receive one, because the battery is empty.

    A Truphone Wifi call from time to time is of course a very pleasant thing, especially when you are in a hotel abroad and can call home for free. :)

  4. A. Handa is spot on – the issue with femtocells is that you require spectrum in order to operate them. Currently all of this spectrum is in the hands of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). WiFi has the huge advantage in that it utilizes license free spectrum – therefore any citizen can use the technology without having to pay a premium to the MNOs.

    What would really give femtocells a big boost would be the assignment of a small chunk of spectrum specifically for use by low power devices such as femtocells within buildings.

  5. Dreaming of Wireless Broadband – GigaOM Friday, February 22, 2008

    [...] indoors, then cutting the twisted pair may not make sense, but considering the simplicity of femtocells, T-Mobile’s UMA efforts and even voice over Wi-Fi, the landline might finally be ready to [...]

  6. tech-talk.biz » Blog Archive » Back from Barcelona Mobile World Congress Friday, February 22, 2008

    [...] in one box) that provide indoor 3G/UMTS at home backhauled through broadband (ADSL, fiber, etc). Femto will be used by 3G telcos to sell to the user a better indoor coverage for both voice, data and high [...]

  7. I’m not rooting for one over the other, but here are a few points to consider…

    How well are femtocells going to work in dense housing situations? Consider an apartment building where two neighbors each put a femtocell on opposite sides of the same wall. An RF nightmare. Is this really a good use of spectrum?

    Yes, Wifi has the battery drain problem, but I have confidence that 802.11m (or p or w or whatever) can fix that.

    Consumers have strong motivation to have wifi routers for other reasons. Their cost has already been driven down by volume.

    Femtocells can only succeed with carrier assistance. 3G-over-wifi can succeed either with or without.

    A few more points here: http://www.shaiberger.com/?p=45

  8. Nokia Has Doubts About UMA – GigaOM Friday, February 22, 2008

    [...] Shaw, associate VP of marketing for Kineto Wireless, notes that UMA is also a key component of femtocells, which are currently en vogue in the telco world. Again, there’s no sense of how wide any [...]

  9. Strata8 – new approach to in-building wireless telephone usage | Mobile and Wireless | TechRepublic.com Friday, February 22, 2008

    [...] 2 – This article in GigaOM seems to echo my feelings that there’s considerably more promise in using Wi-Fi as [...]

  10. I’ve just moved over to a Blackberry Curve and UMA has nicely fixed the fact that TMobile barely works in the house. A week into UMA and a minute after reading the above, it’s now clear that the difference between a femtocell and a Wi-Fi access point is an arbitrary regulatory difference that will not persist.

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