The Battle Between Cellular/WLAN and Femtocells Is Joined

Carl Weinschenk

It appears that the battle between fixed mobile convergence and femtocell-based technologies is joined. It should be a good show, since dual-mode telephones are emerging at the same time.


The goal is the same -- to improve connectivity and choice for users of mobile devices. It appears unlikely to us, however, that both approaches ultimately can thrive. The great integration of functionality necessary to make handsets capable of performing two tasks makes it likely that one will dominate while the other will take a more niche role. In other words, chip makers and vendors are likely to pick a winner.


Converged WLAN/cellular devices, which were the first on the scene, toggle between the two networks depending on conditions, such as which is offering the strongest signal, precisely what the subscriber is doing (i.e., just talking or downloading files) and the relative cost of the use of each network at that point in time.


Femtocells, which are being developed as a way of ameliorating poor coverage in structures -- a problem that will get worse with 3G -- feature small base stations that are cobbled onto the end of a broadband connection. The base stations aren't too powerful, but have enough juice to send signals throughout a home or small business. The presence of the broadband and cellular functionality enables subscribers to use the same types of applications as subscribers to converge device-based networks.


The bottom line is that these two approaches provide much the same service and aim to attract many of the same customers. We're not engineers or planners, so we can't say which is the soundest approach technically or has the best chance in the marketplace. What we can say, however, is that the approaches are significantly different and that the competition will result in better services at lower prices for the end users. Those, of course, are good things.

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