Next Up for Fixed-Mobile Convergence: Femtocells

Mae : Wireless Mobility Blog
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Next Up for Fixed-Mobile Convergence: Femtocells

A few days ago I covered a new report out from ABI Research relating to predictions for the dual-mode handset market. (In case you’re not familiar, dual-mode handsets are phones capable of picking up signal from either a cellular network or a WiFi/VoIP network depending on which is available.) In the report, ABI mentioned an up-and-coming technology called femtocell, which I have to admit I hadn’t encountered before.

ABI describes femtocells as “small cellular base stations designed for use in residential or corporate environments.” The research firm said that femtocells have great potential for carriers interested in rolling out fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services because the technology involved can result in more efficient networks, reduced customer churn, and improved in-building wireless coverage.

I was intrigued to find out more, but before I had to chance to do so TMCnet editor Bob Liu beat me to the punch in his September 26 article about T-Mobile’s plans to soon roll out dual-mode services.


“Enabling the dual-mode interoperability is technology known as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) developed by Kineto Wireless, which is now an accepted part of the 3GPP’s industry standards,” Liu writes. UMA is also serving as the basis for new services from Orange, Telecom Italia, and TeliaSonera.

It’s also possible, Liu says, that T-Mobile’s deployment plans will make use of femtocells rather than being based only on dual-mode handsets. He noted that ip.access now offers femtocell access points that enable FMC.

Some of the advantages of femtocells, according to Liu, are better network coverage and lower cost to maintain transport networks. The first point is perhaps the more important one, since poor network coverage is a key reason why customers switch providers. Carriers looking to reduce churn apparently are taking notice.

One question that remains, at least in my mind, is whether or not customers will be interested in FMC services. The ability to make a phone call from any location already has been achieved thanks to cell phones, Telco 2.0’s blog points out in a Sept. 12 post. In fact, many people have abandoned their landlines in favor of simply carrying their cell phone with them everywhere.

From my perspective, as a consumer, there are two main reasons why I might consider signing up for an FMC service: savings and convenience. If it saved me money by, for example, reducing the per-minute rate for enough of my calls to make a difference, that would be cool. On the convenience side, the main advantage I can think of would be only having to program frequently-used numbers into one handset instead of two (e.g. speed-dial at home, address book on the cell.)

What do you think— Will femtocells make a difference for carriers? Will consumers bite on the FMC hook? Will you?