Day two of Femtocells World Summit 2011 was even more interesting than day one – and certainly more jam-packed! With time slots at something of a premium, questions were frequently limited to one or two per speaker, but the quality of the presentations was nothing short of excellent.
First up in the 9:00am slot today was Dr Alan Law of Vodafone Group talking about femtocells beyond the home. Vodafone’s vision started with consumer cells, and great things are happening both at home and abroad (more on this later) with this arm of their femtocell operation. But where do you take femtocells when looking beyond residential?
Vodafone has been trialling its enterprise and rural cells, and some interesting information emerged when Dr Law recounted some statistics from their rural and enterprise test deployments. The amount of dropped calls noticeably decreased when voice and data was offloaded onto the femtocell – which means better quality of service for Vodafone’s customers. There are still some challenging aspects to rural deployment such as IP transport and power locations, but on the whole results were positive.
Vodafone’s enterprise femto trials have also been successful, with data services noticeably enhanced in enterprise environments when femtocells were brought into the mix. The company’s ‘Metrozone’ concept would provide extra network capacity for data offload in denser urban areas.
On next was Rick Vergin, CEO of Mosaic Telecom. Mosaic is a relatively small telecoms company (though that being said, it does own all its own towers and backhaul) based in Wisconsin, USA, and Rick’s interesting presentation focused on the strategies and challenges of deploying femtos in rural America. Outside of the big telco providers such as Verizon, AT&T, etc. there roughly 1,000 smaller providers such as Mosaic, offering diverse services for areas such as Mosaic’s own northwest Wisconsin.
Rick stated that the number one customer complaint that he receives in rural areas is lack of in-home coverage. The problem is lines of sight to existing cellular towers in these heavily wooded and hilly areas – for example, Rick himself experiences considerably difficulty maintaining signal even when moving from his driveway to the garage.
Mosaic runs 3G in band IV, a relatively underused part of the spectrum from a global perspective. This has caused unprecedented problems with femtocell vendors, with Airvana, Technicolor and Arcadyan all contracted only to subsequently drop out one at a time. Finally, with the guidance of Nokia Siemens, Ubiquisys was selected.
With this in mind, Mosaic is planning on launching its femtocells this August. Mosaic plans on using these femtocells to ‘edge out’ from the existing macrocell coverage, increasing connectivity for its rural customers. As well as this new femto service, the forward-thinking Mosaic already offers WiMax, 3G and LTE to its customers, so the addition of femtocells yet another string to its bow and a boon to customers.
After the morning’s coffee break, Peter Agnew of Colt Telecom took to the stage to present his views on what it takes to overcome the barriers to launching a femtocell service through fixed and mobile collaboration. If that sounds like a bit of a mouthful, all will become clearer in a minute!
Colt Telecom is a large pan-european fixed line operator, working in 21 countries with organisations such as major banks. Peter proposed that in working together with a fixed line operator such as Colt, mobile operators will have an ally in femtocell deployment, aiding connectivity, quality of service and increasing the mobile operator’s access to enterprises.
In essence, what Peter and Colt are proposing is ‘femto-as-a-service’ (‘FaaS’), which was met with some figurative nods of approval on Twitter. Peter finished his presentation by noting that for something like FaaS to work, self-organising network technology would almost certainly need to play a role in such a deployment.
It’s an important development for operators wanting to take their first steps in femto, which often starts with the low-risk bit low-volume enterprise route. This solution is the first to remove the barrier of high up-front gateway and integration costs, and the subsequent reliance on volume in the business case.
In a similar theme to the earlier Vodafone presentation, Chris Cox of ip.access centred his presentation around “what it really takes to get femtocells out of the home” and into enterprises.
There are a lot of considerations when it comes to installing enterprise femtocells, such as location, fluidity of handover when moving between buildings, etc. but one thing Chris noted was that, these days, you don’t need a lot of RF experience to do installations, thus making that element of deployment more straightforward.
Taking its second slot of the day, Vodafone this time focused on the activity around its first femtocell deployment in Greece, presented by Dr Polychronis Tzerefos. The rationale behind the launch was the poor coverage indoors, which in turn caused customer annoyance, which then in turn caused a higher churn rate. Vodafone Greece was bleeding high-value customers due to this poor coverage issue, so decided that the time was right for femto.
A bold proposition to its customer base followed – “100% 3G coverage indoors… guaranteed” – along with a targeted and concerted marketing effort to try and convey initial customer skepticism at having to pay for something they were already getting (i.e. coverage).
So far, customer feedback about Vodafone Greece’s services have been positive, with customers noting that the femtos are easy to install and use, but Dr Tzerefos noted that they don’t believe they’ve reached consumer tipping point – yet. The next step is to start doing product-related communications, and not just brand marketing.
The pre-lunch slot was taken up by Cisco’s Mark Grayson, talking about mobile offload architectures. One of Mark’s main points that resonated with the Twitter audience following the #FWS11 hashtag was that the cost for networks is dealing with the non-uniform peaks in mobile internet demand.
In their previous experience with large sporting events like the Superbowl, Cisco noted that the volume of traffic leaving the stadium was greater than the volume entering – all thanks to social media services such as Facebook, YouTube, etc. with people sharing content, something that Intel’s Steve Price raised later on.
Mark suggested that the move to small cells will require a change in mindset, and put forward a suggestion for using converged Wi-Fi/femto architectures for macro offload of indoor traffic – and he also noted that cellular small cells would need to prove themselves at the high densities already deployed with WiFi.
Network Norway’s Geir Ove Jenssen followed Cisco, with a presentation on launching an enterprise femtocell service. Geir noted that the market is steadily moving towards being ‘mobile only’ when it comes to voice traffic, with 79% of all call minutes terminating on a mobile phone. Network Norway takes the view that for businesses, this is particularly serious, as every dropped call thanks to low coverage could mean a missed business opportunity. For SMEs, femtocells are a particularly appealing proposition, as they cannot always afford solutions like DAS.
Network Norway began a trial run of femtocells to test how the market would respond. At the end of this trial, 76% of participants in the FUT refused to give their femtocells back, as they were so pleased with the level of coverage and service indoors!
In the second afternoon slot was Ubiquisys’ very own CTO and Founder Will Franks, with a presentation on the next generation of small cells. Will started things off with a brief discussion on the evolution and naming of small cells, describing how things have progressed from early residential femtos, all the way to some of the especially advanced outdoor and rural models.
The building blocks for the next generation of intelligent small cells, Will stated, are 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi. This, combined with the continuous adaptive behaviour offered by our self-organising network technology, helps Ubiquisys small cells to form part of the recently discussed ‘Edge Cloud’ – something also raised in Intel’s presentation.
Will went on to describe how small cell hotpots will be deployed in the real world, and broke down small cell technology into layers. Starting with the hardware platform (featuring Texas Instruments’ simultaneous dual-mode 3G/LTE), through continuous self organization and self organizing networks, and on to edge cloud computing platforms (Intel) and cloud control systems.
The last presentation I saw today featured Steve Price of Intel, with a look at how to ‘differentiate the small cell user experience with an intelligent, application enabling architecture’. The internet and mobile internet are both growing rapidly, with the “Gigabit Generation” particular fixated on social networking, which now has a considerable impact on network traffic at large. Service providers are now presented with a great opportunity, Steve said, as they can now take advantage of the fact that they are directly involved in the process.
The next step is to make sure that intelligence is present throughout the network – and just as important is its location. These intelligent services ensure that the user will be getting a better experience in the end.
The two key trends identified by Intel were cloud RAN, with China Mobile named as an example, and edge cloud, where the Intel-Ubiquisys collaboration was given as a prime example.
Thursday, the third and final day, features presentations from Comcast, Verizon Wireless, Nokia Siemens Networks, Telefonica O2 and more, so make sure to check back here for tomorrow’s writeup. You can also follow @ubiquisys on Twitter for updates throughout the day.