After all the build up and preparation, the first day of Femtocells World Summit 2011 is now over. With so much to fit into the schedule of speakers, the day started early, with Simon Saunders from FWS 2011 partner the Femto Forum kicking us off with his opening remarks and an update on the femtocell market at 9:00am.
According to some of interesting data presented by Simon, 60% of consumers are interested in femtocells now, which marries up nicely with the message that we as an industry have now turned the corner into the serious growth phase. Another interesting statistic was that there are now more 3G femtocells in the world than there are 3G macrocells, which again dovetails with data stating that 60% of operators think small cells are more important than macrocells in the success of LTE.
As well as covering all this and more, Simon’s thoughts are best summed up with a sort of rallying cry he came up with: “Our cells are small but our goals are not”!
Up next was the much-anticipated presentation by Thilo Kirchinger, Principal Product Manager for Vodafone Group. Thilo discussed Vodafone’s operational stance on femtocells and small cells, and during which confirmed that Vodafone would indeed be launching LTE femtocells.
Thilo also spoke about how he sees femtocells integrating and being used by people in home environments. For example, instructions for home femtocells should be as simple, with as little technical information as possible, limiting potential confusion for the end user, while voice communications is still the biggest draw for this kind of residential femtocell (despite the fact that people tend to use a lot of data for things like app browsing when at home).
Telecom Italia’s Ferruccio Antonelli took the third slot of the day with a presentation focusing on the company’s commercial trial and proposed launch of femtocells in Italy. It sounds like it’s been a time of experimentation in Italy for femtocells thus far, but signs are looking good, with Ferruccio stating that femtocells will see launch in the second half of 2011. There was also some discussion on Twitter stemming from Telecom Italia’s idea of a ‘femtozone’ tariff or simply keeping pricing the same.
Providing us with some insights from South Korea was Samson Tae-Yong Kim from SK Telecom, whose presentation focused on using femtocells for data offload. Of particular note was the disparity raised by Kim in terms of data usage between different types of phone. For example, some smartphone users are consuming as much as 1 gig of data on an ‘all-you-can-eat’ plan in the same amount of time that it would take a feature phone user to consume 10 megs. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that 20% of mobile phone users in South Korea have smartphones, and this number is sure to grow.
Alcatel Lucent came next, with Senior Director – Marketing for Wireless Products Steve Kemp giving an engaging and at times humorous presentation. Steve looked at how data usage is now ballooning – indeed, that we are now “nearing the practical limits of information theory” – with 30 x growth expected in network load and devices types (i.e. smartphones) within the next five years.
Steve also raised a point that kept reappearing through the morning: iPads (and tablets in general) are far more data hungry than iPhones/smartphones, which is certainly food for thought when considering the sudden surge in popularity of these devices.
As the morning progressed, it was the turn of Nigel Toon, CEO at Picochip, to present his thoughts and findings on the impact of femtocells on network performance and capacity. In what was again something of a theme on day one, Nigel noted that voice communication is still one of the most important reasons why people select a carrier. Nigel also raised the point that no one really knows by how much mobile data traffic usage is expanding (or due to expand), with various different proposals raised during day one of FWS 2011 alone.
The need for a new network layer, at a much lower cost, which would benefit all users was also raised during this presentation – something that we’ve been talking about with Edge Cloud.
Nitin Bhas from Juniper Research discussed the principals of mobile data offload and onload, where ‘offload’ means data migration from mobile to fixed, and ‘onload’ vice-versa. The spectre of tablets such as the iPad and smartphones being data hogs was once again raised during Nitin’s presentation, as was the important of the ‘offload’ of data due to this very reason.
One particularly noteworthy statistic (though, with reference to Steve Toon above, how accurately we can predict this is another matter entirely) is that traffic from these smartphone and tablet-based devices is predicted to exceed 14,000 petabytes in the next four years.
The last three presentations I was able to see today were by Bill Chang of UMobile Malaysia, Todd Mersch of Continuous Computing, and Shlomo Gadot of Broadcom. UMobile’s was particularly interesting, giving an insight into the Malaysian mobile market as seen by a new challenger in an arena typically used to “benign competition” between its regular big three players. As it stands right now, Malaysia has 50% broadband penetration, and with a government scheme to raise that to 75% within five years, the time certainly seems apt for femtocells to make an impact.
Continuous Computing’s Todd Mersch pitched his presentation under the somewhat disconcerting title of ‘Small Cells Unplugged: The Future is Not What it Seems’. Thankfully, as Todd himself joked, the presentation itself was not as dark as the title, though it did raise some thought-provoking points. One such point was that Todd and Continuous Computing believe that LTE is femto’s biggest opportunity, and that the real question is whether we can all take advantage of this. Todd summarised things by saying that a software-centric approach is required in future.
Finally, Broadcom’s Shlomo Gadot gave a provocative presentation where he outlined a compelling vision for femtocell technology. He sees no reason why Wi-Fi hardware should be cheaper than femto in future, and named integration as a key trend. Following this trend, Shlomo gave more details of the forthcoming integrated WiFi/Femto/ADSL residential gateway, the first of its kind, announced by Ubiquisys earlier that same day. At the welcome drinks reception later, sponsored by Broadcom, more details were on display:
Tomorrow brings the promise of presentations from ip.access, Vodafone, Cisco, Network Norway, Intel and Ubiquisys’ very own Will Franks, so be sure to stop by tomorrow for another round-up of all the news from day two.
You can also follow the FWS 2011 hashtag on Twitter for more news, views and opinion on the presentations as they happen.