Will Franks - femtocell pioneer

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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.