After a Disappointing 2009, 2010 Could be Do or Die for Femtocells

Carl Weinschenk

Two of the underlying and interrelated issues with which the wireless industry has to deal as the economy slowly improves is how to handle the explosive growth in traffic and how to consistently improve service to customers, whose devices grow more demanding by the day.


Last week, The Dow Jones Venturewire posted a story that said femtocells will be a key tool in this effort. Femtocells are small in-premise base stations that attach to subscribers' broadband connections.


Femtos do a couple of cool things. One is that they improve coverage inside homes. As spotty as cellular connectivity is today, it stands to get worse as the frequencies used get higher. Thus, having a little base station blasting signals in homes and offices is a good thing.


The other benefit is transferring backhaul (premise to central office) traffic from expensive licensed cellular network to the Internet, which is a far less costly way to get a packet from point A to point B. Though the amount of traffic isn't great, according to Rupert Baines, the vice president of marketing for picoChip, the offloading is good news for cellular networks, which these days are packed as tightly as a Tokyo subway at rush hour.


The potential advantages of femtos have been known for a long time. The Venturewire piece says that the performance of femtocells, which has been disappointing to this point, will pick up this year. The writer says that the testing phase was longer than anticipated and that prices of consumer-grade femtos have not declined as quickly as proponents anticipated. Various folks cited in the story suggest that those challenges have been met and that 2010 will be a breakout year for femtocells.

There was some femtocell hardware news at CES Show, which could be a sign that a good year is coming. MagicJack announced a product that it says will enable any GSM phone to connect to a femtocell and make VoIP calls to anywhere in North America. The company saysthe device will cost $40, with a $20 annual charge starting in the second year. Samsung introduced the Combo FemtoCell, which Phone News says is a CDMA2000 1x and EV-DO femtocell that will be used by Verizon Wireless.

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