What's next for Asia's mobile operators

Telecom Asia staff writers and industry analysts
21 Dec 2010

Plan carefully for femtocells

Service providers across Asia Pacific are in various stages of trialing and commercializing femtocells, with the technology having been adopted by players including China Unicom, Softbank, NTT DoCoMo and StarHub and shunned by others like Telstra. While femtocells present a compelling value proposition, many operators still struggle with several key challenges. 

Who pays, and what for? Within many operator organizations, it is unclear whether femtocells should be financed by marketing or network organizations. Often neither organization is sufficiently incentivized to drive commercial trials to mass-market deployments. From the consumers' perspective, a femtocell purchase depends on it addressing a tangible need, which tends to be primarily coverage as opposed to capacity. 

How are femtocells positioned relative to Wi-Fi? Although industry players generally position femtocells as complementary to Wi-Fi, they contemporaneously state that Wi-Fi is inferior. While this might be true from a pure technology perspective, it's also shortsighted. Wi-Fi represents an important complementary market channel for femtocells to drive the market scale necessary to support unit price-points below $50 for basic units. For this channel to be realized, the industry as a whole must drive standardization to ultimately enable "white-label" femtocell platforms. 

What is the right model for operationalizing femtocells? From the outset, femtocells cannot be operationalized as an extension of the macro network. While many operators acknowledge this fact, they are challenged in implementing operational models to address the scale and meet the automation requirement for mass-market femtocell implementations. Femtocell operational models will ultimately parallel many of the characteristics we see in the DSL and cable markets today.

Are femtocells uniquely positioned to address long-term demands for mobile broadband? Ironically, mobile broadband services will be increasingly delivered over local area as opposed to wide area wireless networks. As this occurs, the femtocell will become the hub for service discovery and personalization. Services that would have ordinarily been streamed over macro networks will be time shifted to be delivered over local area networks and cached on the device. 

- Phil Marshall, chief research officer, Tolaga Research



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