Data that smart phones represented 45% of all new U.S. mobile device purchases in November coupled with the fact that smart phone users now make up 31% of the total U.S. mobile subscriber segment got me thinking – did femtocells just lose their relevance for capacity augment? Let’s revisit the business proposition for femtocells – smart phones generate a lot of data at home/office/airport/doctor visit/shopping mall yada yada …Femtocells can offload the data away from the macro network, went the reasoning. But does this argument hold if every smart phone being shipped came with WiFi? According to a report from ABI Research, it will be difficult to buy a new smart phone that does not have built-in WiFi in the next few years. Currently, about half the smart phones sold have WiFi. By 2014, the forecast goes, about 90 percent of smart phones will have built-in WiFi.
One of the primary drivers behind the whole femtocell business proposition was that very few 3G phones supported WiFi – reasons ranged from battery life issues to operators’ concern about giving up control of the user to a WiFi/fixed network. Increasingly, mobile operators are willing to give up control as well. Heavy traffic loads on overburdened 3G networks are forcing the operators to actually encourage their customers to use WiFi hotspots. Case in point – AT&T is encouraging all its iPhone subscribers to access its more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots for free.
The hope is that the company can offload some of the traffic onto the WiFi network by encouraging subscribers to use WiFi for data-intensive activities when they’re in range of a hot spot. In this age of data-centric multimedia phones, carriers have embraced WiFi technology as a way to offload traffic from licensed spectrum and improve the consumer experience. I know my iPhone 4 switches to my home and work WiFi networks automatically when I am in range – it also provides instant updates when I am traveling about new WiFi networks that I can sign onto.
While most cell phones today use WiFi technology based on older standards, the newer specification called 802.11n is gaining traction. And by 2012 ABI says it will become the predominant WiFi technology used in mobile handsets. The benefit of using 802.11n is that it offers up to five times the download speed of 802.11g. The newer 802.11n also doubles the range of a Wi-Fi hot spot from about 100 meters to about 200 meters. It also has a few other features built into the specification that will improve the experience for mobile users. For example, since data transmissions are more efficient with 802.11n, battery life lasts longer than with other forms of 802.11 technology.
To summarize, all the principal data guzzlers – smart phones, tablets, laptops – will support WiFi – the question then is do we really need a femtocell for data?
I have not heard a lot of chatter on how the various 900MHz spectrum re-farming proposals impact the femtocell business case. The thought crossed my mind when I was reading the update to the UMTS900 Global Status Information Paper published by the GSA, the Global mobile Suppliers Association. This paper reports on network deployments, launches, trials, regulatory developments and devices availability.
GSA recently published an operator case study on Elisa, Finland showing significant cost and coverage benefits of deploying 3G services with UMTS900. Elisa confirmed that 3G coverage with UMTS900 can save 50 – 70% of mobile network costs versus UMTS2100, for CapEx and OpEx. Elisa also indicated indoor coverage as another key benefit of UMTS900. Continue reading
While Europe is the center of all the femtocell mania, operators in the good old US of A are either quietly rolling out or planning actual deployments. As expected, most of these deployments are mainly to address the voice coverage problem like Sprint’s Airave product. According to an FCC filing, Verizon Wireless is all set to introduce the Samsung Ubicell (albeit in a new dark suit).
OK. How is the Airave product and service doing? It certainly looks like the product achieves its goal of improved voice coverage – its raison d’être! However, there are several complaints about the service, some of them appear pretty serious: Continue reading