With Femtocells World Summit 2011 now over, here are my thoughts on some of the key topics and subjects covered during the conference.
Lots of momentum
It was good to see so many operator presentations, covering everything from technical project details to business plans and marketing strategies. The latest Informa femtocell market status report, produced for the Femto Forum this week, confirms the strong growth trend with nine new commercial launches in the past quarter alone.
New focus on public space data, but some answers still under wraps
Both operators and vendors alike were talking about femto technology being used in public-space small-cell hotspots to provide a capacity boost in high demand areas. At least half of the presentations touched on this topic in one way or another. Is it because the growth in data demand is beginning to be felt? Or is it that the low opex and backhaul costs of femto are making a strong business case?
In any case, many of the questions about public space small cells were mentioned, such as interoperability with the macro layer and how the necessary high density deployment of small cells will be achieved. The questions were mentioned, but solutions were not – a sure sign of innovative work in progress.
New business model emerges for operators seeking a pragmatic launch
Colt Telecom unveiled femtocell infrastructure as a service. Because many operators want to make their first femto launch into a low-risk segment, they often opt for SME (small business) rather than consumer segments. Yet the lower volumes in SME can damage the business case, because the upfront costs of the core gateway and systems integration are shared between fewer customers. By offering an incremental managed service cost, fixed line provider Colt might just have made it easier for mobile operators to start femto services.
Large silicon vendors making their presence felt
Broadcom unveiled a fully integrated femto residential gateway, Texas Instruments won an award for their powerful new 3G/LTE SoC, and Intel presented a future powered by compute platforms in both cloud RAN and edge cloud environments.
Simultaneous dual-mode is the future for small-cell LTE
There was a degree of consensus that LTE will be seen first in small cell hotspots, the same hotspots that need to deal with a deluge of 3G data demand over the next few years. Several speakers mentioned that this calls for small cells that can run 3G and LTE simultaneously, like those new SoCs from TI.
Common sense breaks out on Wi-Fi harmonisation
A few years ago you would have seen quite a few femto vs. Wi-Fi presentations, but no more, which is quite a relief to us, as we have been behind combined femto-Wi-Fi devices since 2008. There was much discussion of harmonisation in home and business environments. In public spaces, the idea of tri-mode small cells replacing Wi-Fi hotspots was raised. These would maintain the Wi-Fi capability, but add 3G and LTE cellular, opening the possibility of using cellular’s invisible “login” to replace Wi-Fi’s usual usernames and passwords.
Femtocells World Summit was an exciting and informative snapshot of a vibrant sector of the wireless industry. There was a little repetition in some of the presentations (did you know that operators face unprecedented growth in mobile data usage?) but there was also real insight, original opinion and enough detail to matter. I hope that my occasional tweets shared a few highlights of the event.