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Femto Forum Meeting May Lead to Femtocells Standards Proposals

January 30, 2008

As Wikipedia explains,  a femtocell—originally known as an Access Point Base Station—is a small cellular base station, typically designed for use in residential or small business environments. It connects to the service provider’s network via broadband (such as DSL or cable); current designs typically support 2 to 5 mobile phones in a residential setting.

A femtocell allows service providers to extend service coverage indoors, especially where access would otherwise be limited or unavailable. The femtocell incorporates the functionality of a typical base station but extends it to allow a simpler, self contained deployment; for example, a UMTS femtocell containing a Node B, RNC and GSN with Ethernet for backhaul. Although much attention is focussed on UMTS, the concept is applicable to all standards, including GSM,CDMA-2000, TD-SCDMA and WiMAX solutions.

For a user, the attractions of a femtocell are improvements to both coverage and capacity, especially indoors. There may also be opportunity for new services and reduced cost. The cellular operator also benefits from the improved capacity and coverage but also can reduce both capital expenditure (capex) and operating expense (opex).

Femtocells are an alternative way to deliver the benefits of Fixed Mobile Convergence. The distinction is that most FMC architectures require a new (dual-mode) handset, while a femtocell-based deployment will work with existing handsets.

That said, there's some big news in this space today.

James Middleton of the U.K.-based site, reports that The Femto Forum, which is an industry group promoting femtocells technology, has begun an initiative intended to ease the integration of femtocells into mobile networks.  

Although this group is not a formal standards body, it intends to seek proposals from members for femocell-based solutions that promote mobile services interoperability. These would likely be crafted to work with a Femtocell reference architecture already in place.

Once those proposals are ratified, the Forum would then have the option of forwarding those recommendations to standards body for further discussion and ratification.

Initial discussion about what could lead to femocell standards will take place at the Femo Forum's meeting in March.

Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum, said a reference architecture has already been agreed upon, which will be used to provide a consistent basis for comparison between the different network integration options.

"Femtocells have got off to a flying start and more deployments will take place in the near future but it is crucial that all the players in the market begin to plan together for the longer term," said Femto Forum chair Simon Saunders. " Operators have been vocal about their desire for a more unified approach to femtocell network integration as the scale of deployments increases.

This program represents the first time the femtocell community has come together to forge a future technology path through consensus," he added. "This conjoined approach will not only encourage interoperability and increase economies of scale thereby helping keep costs low, but it will also help to support far-reaching new femtocell applications."

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