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Summary:

Deployments of femtocells have doubled in the last six months, indicating that an increasing number of carriers want to supplement wireless coverage in homes using the 3G devices. Evan as some carriers charge for the hardware, consumers appear willing to pay for better home voice coverage.

Deployments of femtocells have doubled in the last six months, indicating that an increasing number of carriers want to supplement wireless coverage in homes using the 3G devices. The market has seen 16 carrier commitments and 13 implementations of femtocells throughout North America, Asia and Europe since November of 2009, according to Informa Telecoms and Media, a mobile communications research firm. It expects the small cellular signal boosters to support 114 million mobile users through sales of 49 million femtocell access points by 2014.

Femtocells help carriers manage their wireless capacity by offloading voice services to a customer’s existing home broadband connection. But the carriers are taking different approaches with femtocell solutions, which can either help or hinder consumer adoption. Here in the U.S., AT&T charges for the small device but reduces the hardware cost if customers agree to an optional $19.99 monthly voice plan. The carrier also counts data usage through the femtocell against limited data plans. In Japan, however, Softbank is providing both the femtocell and a DSL connection to use with the device at no charge. While I don’t know firsthand what Softbank’s coverage map looks like, I suspect a greater percentage of its customers take to femtocells as opposed to those with AT&T, given the no-cost device and service.

The recent growth of femtocell deployments is putting a damper on Unlicensed Mobile Access — or calls placed over Wi-Fi in the home — which disappoints me. Last week, I tested a UMA call on T-Mobile’s new Nokia E73 Mode and it worked flawlessly, mirroring Om’s UMA experiences on his BlackBerry. Unfortunately, carriers can’t guarantee the quality of such voice calls due to potential interference on a customer’s home wireless network, as Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum, explained to me when we chatted last September for a GigaOM Pro report on femtocells (subscription required). Saunders’ expectations are coming to fruition — for many consumers, femtocells can and will solve the problem of poor voice coverage at home.

  1. Check out the first upcoming open 3GPP femtocell deployment in the U.S. – over an AWS network, to top it off

    http://www.telecompetitor.com/femtocells-make-it-to-rural-markets-through-mosaic/

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  2. If UMA over wifi can’t guarantee voice quality, then the skype users must be suffering badly. I don’t see any major issue there, so yeah, I don’t buy this much.

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  3. “49 million femtocell access points by 2014.” ~ These are LTE femtocells in what percentage? Why would consumers continue buying (or wanting/demanding) femtocells for 3G if they have 4G macro network options. If you have high speed wireless at home and FTTH at that point, what good is a 3G solution? Skype over 100Mbps 802.11n and FTTH at home probably does a good job? Consumers are crafty if the technology is there. If you have no coverage today, a femtocell is a great idea… I fail to see how you will be upsold at this time to otherwise deploy one.

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  4. Myles,
    the majority of these 49 million femtocells will not be LTE during 2014.
    You have to ask how many subscribers will be “crafty” and will also have a LTE handset. My guess is a small percentage, while the majority will have 3G of even 2G handsets.
    Improving indoor coverage for cellular voice seems to be the killer application for femtocells currently. Improving radio capacity in problem areas may be the next business model for femtocells.

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  5. [...] Informa published its latest femtocell market status report, reporting that the number of operators who have announced femtocell deployments has doubled in the last 9 months.  Telecoms.com sees an industry ‘in the grip of femto fever’, but Fierce Wireless is more cautious, pointing out that only 10% of US consumers currently know what a femtocell is, and speculating that enterprise femtocells might not take off without plug and play capabilities.  Ian Scales at Telecom TV predictably applies a glass-half-empty filter to the Parks Associates survey results, and finds contradictions in operators’ femtocell marketing propositions.  Meanwhile other traditional femto sceptics appear to be coming round to the idea; The Register reports “all smiles” at the Femtocells World Summit, and GigaOM says femtocells are “on the rise”. [...]

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  6. [...] Sprint and AT&T have attempted to boost in-home signals with femtocells, or miniature cellular base stations that use Wi-Fi and a customer’s home broadband [...]

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  7. [...] as the network end points move close to the edge (thanks to a femtocell in your home as opposed to a base station at a tower a mile away) issues around privacy and government [...]

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  8. [...] have struck deals with Boingo to offer more wireless access. And all the carriers are turning to femtocells and UMA technology to extend coverage in home. But they’re aware that it won’t be enough, something that [...]

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