Femtos outlook improves as cellcos seek offload options

Joseph Waring
19 Feb 2010

The business case for femtocells has improved over the past year, as operators have moved from just boosting indoor coverage to offloading traffic from macrocells.

Research firm Informa reported this week that operator commitment to femtocells increased 50% in last three months. There are currently 12 service commitments, including nine commercial launches and several trials.

Femtocell Forum chairman Simon Saunders told telecomasia.net in Barcelona that the push behind the increased interest in femtocells is the huge strain operators are seeing on their networks as data traffic skyrockets. He said Vodafone in the UK reported congestion on 7% of its cell sites while O2 has seen traffic double every two months.

In the past quarter, SFR, Optimus and China Unicom have commercially launched femtocell services and KDDI and France’s free have also committed to the technology. Network Norway announced at the Mobile World Congress it selected NEC to build Norway’s first femtocell network.

With indoor representing between 70% and 90% of the network load, it’s an obvious option for data offload.

He said that instead of limiting the use of high-end data users, who can constrain the network, operators can target this segment and offer them femtocells so than can use even more data and have a better experience.

“This can fuel business growth that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” he pointed out. Many operators are subsidizing the CPE for customers that extend their contracts.

Saunders said another factor is increased user expectations, which is forcing operators to improve indoor coverage so quality is the same as on a fixed line. “Femtocells gives users personal, dedicated capacity and higher data speeds closer to headline rates.”

Informa expects femtocell unit sales to reach 25 million in 2014, up from a few hundred thousand last year.

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