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Femtocells pose threat to VoWi-Fi deployment

Posted: 30 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:all-IP solution? femtocell market? voice over Wi-Fi? VoWi-Fi?

Tatara Systems and picoChip will collaborate on and jointly market all-IP solutions for the femtocell market. This deal adds momentum to a growing femtocell market that could impact cellular-handset-based voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) as well as future cellular base station deployment and revenue models.

The partnership announced will focus on developing a SIP/IMS-enabled femtocell reference design to ease the integration of femtocells into a mobile operator's network, thus enabling the significant advantages of an all-IP approach. The collaboration will include picoChip's portfolio of products, including the PC8208 HSDPA Femtocell modem reference design, and the Tatara Mobile Services Convergence Portfolioof products, addressing the critical areas of voice and messaging convergence, security, and enhanced services.

A femtocell, also known as a 3G access point, is a low-cost, low-power cellular base station that provides improved indoor coverage while backhauling the cellular traffic over a broadband connection. Recent advances in low cost silicon technology make femtocells the most viable solution for convergence in service provider networks. Femtocells are designed to work with existing mobile handsets and can support multiple users in a home environment. According to ABI Research, there will be 102 million users of femtocell products on 32 million access points worldwide by 2011. The majority of these deployments will be based on the all-IP architecture.

The implications of femtocells are manifold, according to Rupert Baines, vice president of marketing at picoChip Designs Ltd. For example, they could obviate the need for VoWi-Fi, where cellular calls are handed off to a Wi-Fi network in the home or office and then carried back to the mobile network over a broadband connection, whether DSL or cable. The problem with VoWi-Fi, according to Baines, is that performance has proven disappointing, the handsets are expensive and need to be subsidized by the carrier and it's not ubiquitous. Shadowing these technical challenges is the fact that carriers lose out on revenue when calls are handed off from the cellular network. Femtocells give operators a chance to maintain that revenue with high-quality connections over licensed spectrum, versus noise- and latency-prone unlicensed Wi-Fi connections.

From another perspective, Baines added that the ability of femtocells to both improve network capacity and coverage can affect base station deployment models and the revenue that companies such as Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia-Siemens can expect to achieve. Greater coverage via femtocells means fewer base stations are required. In addition, he said, many companies can start developing femtocells, with companies such as 2Wire, a DSL gateway provider, already developing femtocells. Other companies in the femtocell mix include RadioFrame, Ubiquisys, ipAccess and Dekolink. Kineto Wireless, a Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) advocate, has partnered with NEC on femtocells, as has Tatara. UMA, a 3GPP standard, promotes Wi-Fi/cellular convergence, though Kineto's gateway solution is amenable to both UMA and the femtocell model using SIP.

- Patrick Mannion
Mobile Handset DesignLine

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