The Femto Future


How femtocells will be used is a fascinating question. One thing that seems certain is that they will be central to the future of both cellular and wireless networks -- and the desire to integrate the two.


GigaOm reports that Kineto Wireless is hoping to use femtocells in conjunction with its unlicensed mobile access (UMA) software that knits together cellular and unlicensed wireless services. Kineto has raised $15.5 million in additional funding, which seems like quite an accomplishment in the current environment, from existing investors. Femtocell research will be one of the big beneficiaries of the infusion.


There will be significant competition to femotcells. Disruptive Analysis' Dean Bubley looks at one of these battles, which will pit femtocells against repeaters. 3G and 4G signals generally use higher frequencies than 2G and 2.5G, and thus will have even more trouble inside structures. Repeaters and femtocells both improve inside coverage, albeit in different ways. Femtocells, Bubley says, add capacity to the macro network while repeaters simply enable the network to more closely approach its established theoretical limit. The post looks at two of the main types of repeaters and contrasts them to femtocells.


Cable operators are a great potential user of femtocells, since a good deal of their infrastructure is in homes and apartments. Such settings can benefit greatly from femtocell's ability to extend effective coverage and to integrate wireless and cellular networks. This WiMax World 2008 report from Unstrung says that Comcast -- the nation's largest cable operator -- is expected to roll out femtocells in conjunction with Clearwire during the second half of next year. The cable operator, which would not comment on the report, is a Clearwire investor.


It truly seems that femtocells are in the ascendancy. In addition to the possible Comcast deployment, Japan's Softbank Mobile -- the third-largest carrier in the country -- is reported by Unstrung to be planning to use NEC femtocells beginning in January. Tech Radar says that femtocells and picocells will be major elements of Long Term Evolution (LTE), the 4G network technology that is a couple of years down the road. The writer agrees with the assessment of ABI Research, which released a report last month that said both picocell and femtocell shipments will grow with the advent of LTE.


Clearly, femtocells have a tremendous amount of potential. What will become clearer during the next year or so is precisely how the industry is going to use them.