Will Franks - femtocell pioneer

Femtocell Pioneer has moved to a new home!
Thanks for visiting - all my femto pioneer posts are now appearing on The Femtocell Blog - I look forward to seeing you there - Will Franks

27 March 2009

Femtocells for Business

This week I spoke at the Femtocells Asia conference in Tokyo on the subject of business femtocells.

Here are the main points:
  • A grid of modular “Lego bricks” of coverage that can fit any business space and which can be easily expanded or remodelled
  • Self-organising capabilities that eliminate the need for expensive RF planners to do site surveys or network engineers change the macro network to accommodate
  • Simple enough to be sold through an operator’s existing direct and indirect channels.
It’s clear why picocells have had limited success to date. ABI Research senior analyst Aditya Kaul captured it: “One major reason for picocells’ low penetration has been their high total cost of ownership." Equipment costs are one aspect, but complexity of install has made deployment expensive and has limited the channels to market to the highly skilled.

How femtocell grids change this is by bringing complexity of install down to the level of WiFi, thus opening up the channels to market to include IT resellers as well as mail order self install.

There will always be the real high value enterprise customers where mobile operators will want to apply the personal touch and oversee the install themselves, but for the vast majority from SOHOs upwards a femtocell or femtocell grid, will enable, at last, new and compelling business packages to become available.

The Femto Forum meeting, also here in Tokyo, seems to be making good progress, and membership of the Forum continues growing almost weekly.

24 March 2009

Commercial Femtocell Spotted at Tokyo Conference

I'm in Tokyo this week speaking at the Femtocells Asia conference.

When I arrived, mobile operator SoftBank had set up a display to demonstrate Ubiquisys-made femtocells working with a range of their mobile phones.

I took this (poor) picture because it captures an important moment.

Why? Because this femtocell is the real thing:
  • It's a commercial femtocell, not a vendor prototype - a boxed product that ran off the Ubiquisys production line at Sony.

There are doubters here that UMTS femtocell systems are commercially ready. Well here's conformation that ours is at least, which probably comes from being the first to start.

My speech at the conference was about business femtocells, something I'm very passionate about. I'll let you know shortly how it went.

13 March 2009

Ubiquisys Tops New ABI Research Femtocell Vendor Matrix Ranking

So for the third year running the highly respected analyst firm ABI Research has rated Ubiquisys as the number one femtocell vendor in the world. This year we are in first place for both dimensions of the study: Innovation and Implementation. Well known firms like Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and Samsung were on the list, as were smaller companies like ip.access and Airvana.

This is not an accolade we take for granted, because we know that ABI does its research with mobile operators and with vendors very throughly, and uses a comprehensive and highly disciplined methodology. I've listed the categories that they analyse to give an insight into the breadth of the study.

End-to-End Solution Capability and Ecosystem Partnerships
RFP, Trial, and Rollout Activity
Ability to Scale and Commoditize Quickly
Carrier Relationships
Overall Financial and Organizational Health
Silicon Strategy/Partnerships

Interference Mitigation Techniques
Standards-Compliant Network Interface
Gateway IOT
Handset IOT
Solution Maturity
Hand In/Out
Module Support
Multimode Support
Future-proof Upgrade Path
Femtozone Service/Application Framework Support
Support for Multiple Form Factors

We might not be seeing it in the press yet, but the UMTS femtocell market has fundamentally changed in 2009 as operators start their commercial launches. The focus on femtocells is now all about what I call deployment-ready. Simple for consumers, scalable, fit for purpose and operationally proven for operators, with effective interference management, the legacy handset issues dealt with (heads up guys - this one was non-trivial), and primed for consumer applications.

For a while now I have seen immature femtocell products hidden behind the reputations of their company names. In 2009 these vendors will have to stand behind their products for the first time. And remarkable deployment-ready products will get the recognition they deserve.

03 March 2009

Femtocells in Asia

As many of you will be aware, late last year SoftBank Mobile was the world’s first operator to announce a mass-market commercial launch of 3G femtocells using our ZoneGate device and IMS infrastructure from NEC.

Asia is currently a hotbed of femtocell activity with Singapore’s Starhub also recently announcing a commercial pilot deployment and a number of other operators having advanced initiatives in the space.

Later this month I’ll be travelling to Japan for the Femtocells Asia Conference, where I will be presenting on The Business of Femtocells. It was announced earlier today that SoftBank will be demonstrating their commercial 3G femtocell at the conference using the Ubiquisys ZoneGate – the first public event of its kind to have femotcell enabled 3G coverage - so it’s set to be an exciting and informative show.

I’ll be blogging from my trip and will bring you details of my thoughts on the conference and the state of the femtocell industry in Asia.

01 March 2009

Mobile World Congress: Insider view

I was so busy meeting Mobile Operators, partners and analysts in Barcelona that I didn’t get much of a chance to have a thorough look around. It has been fascinating however seeing all the marketing hype and Analyst views before and after the show. So I thought I’d give some down to earth views on common themes I experienced.

Real Femtocell deployment issues
There has been a clear change in emphasis amongst the more advanced Mobile Operators (i.e. those who have made the decision to deploy femtocells rather than those who are trying out technology) with a focus on the operational realities. Central to this are the laws of physics, i.e. the realities of radio interference. When you try out technology, or even do a launch for marketing purposes, you don’t mind sending engineering around to someone’s house. For the economics of femtocells to work, however, they must be plugged in by consumers not engineers. So when we laid out the original femtocell concept we planned not only to respect Mobile Operators and Consumers needs but also those of the laws of physics and how they are impacted by technological, material and regulatory realities. So I’ve been banging on about Ubiquisys using very sophisticated Cognitive Radio techniques for years in our Femtocells. Amongst other techniques we use unique methods that continuously monitor and adapting the radio parameters to the environment minimising interference, dead zones and abuse opportunities, and ensuring service continuity – and a happy customer. Why this is so essential is now understood by those Mobile Operators who have completed their technical due diligence for launch, and now being appreciated by those who are in the process.

Femtocells for Enterprise – definitely a hot topic
I had some great discussions with Service Providers and Enterprises on the use of Meshed Femtocells for Business (Not just SOHOs, which seems to be an established application these days, but using a grid of self-organising femtocells for much larger areas). I feel a bit guilty as the case is so compelling it doesn’t leave much room for the smaller picocells. We’ve been all the way with Mobile Operators; line for line comparisons of picocells verses meshed femtocell right to the finishing post – and meshed femtocell won – so we’ll be delivering it this year. Meshed femto will be a mix of different capacity femtocells to meet the needs of the business. It was good to see pretty much unanimous support for the concept. (Don’t get we wrong - Femtocells don’t remove the need for repeaters, picocells or DAS by any means.)

So are we any further forward from last MWC?
Yes definitely (but then you’d expect I would say that). There is always a hype curve with any worthwhile technology. Femtocell is one and therefore we expected there to be hype. The reality is the conversations have moved on massively from last year. The technology is in place for the commercial launches (at least in our case), we’ve manufactured 10s of thousands and there will be many femtocell launches this year and more next year across the world. That’s the reality.

Last year the discussions were about trials. This year it was about launches.