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With an undisclosed investment in femtocell company ip.access, Qualcomm is raising the profile of the nascent market. Femtocells are tiny base stations that connect to a consumer’s existing broadband connection to improve cellular reception in a home or office. Carriers such as Sprint, Orange and TMobile are all deploying or have plans to deploy femtocells. Carriers (in most cases) like femtocells for their ability to improve coverage without requiring network build-outs in rural areas and to offload users from increasingly strained 3G networks.
Qualcomm’s backing is noteworthy because it has hinted that it will develop a femtocell chip of its own and also because CEO Paul Jacobson had previously cast doubts on the technology saying interference from femtocells could cause problems for other home networking equipment. With this investment, perhaps Qualcomm intends to solve those problems and reap the rewards of a growing market.
In another indication of the market’s growing maturity, today the Femto Forum said it has come up with a standard that will make femotocells interoperable with a variety of carrier equipment and gateways. That means carriers may feel more comfortable trialling the devices without being locked in with one vendor. However, the resulting standard is likely to force equipment makers such as ip.access, UbiquiSys and Alcatel-Lucent to revamp their existing equipment. So it’s a good thing ip.access has deep pockets behind it.