Rise of the femtocell

Rise of the femtocell

Chris Gilbert, CEO Ubiquisys
Chris Gilbert, CEO Ubiquisys

Understanding the opportunity for mobile business customers

Femtocells have created quite a buzz in the mobile industry since their rise to prominence over the past twelve months. All of the major mobile operators are currently trialing the devices and the likes of Qualcomm, Motorola, Cisco, Google and T-Mobile have all invested in the area. However, while the market to date has been primarily focused on the potential for the consumer market, they also offer a significant opportunity for businesses.

What and where

For the uninitiated, a femtocell is a small plug and play 3G device which attaches to a broadband connection and provides excellent quality, low cost voice calls and high speed data within a home or office, all using existing mobile handsets. Mobile operators have been among the first to see the potential of femtocells for business and it is likely that we will now see them deployed in parallel to their consumer counterparts.

The first point to mention is that the DNA of the enterprise femtocell is virtually identical to a consumer femtocell. This is vital; it is the volume production of

consumer femtocells that will make enterprise femtocells an affordable proposition, for even the smallest business. They are also genuinely plug and play to install and completely automatic in operation, which brings costs down still further. Until now the only indoor mobile solutions have been so-called picocells, which because of high cost and complex installation have only been available to the larger enterprises and have been out of reach of typical SMEs.

So size is important, and small is beautiful. Small businesses, satellite offices of large companies and home workers make up the majority of working environments across the world, but until now mobile operators have had little extra to offer them beyond individual mobility and enhanced customer service.


Aiding the SME

The main problems faced by small companies are familiar; patchy indoor service that means you avoid using your mobile for all but the most trivial calls. That means you need a desk phone for everyone who might be in the office. But the desk phones cannot hold your contacts, and most will lie unused for the majority of the time. Plus, mobile tariffs do not compare well with the best VoIP rates.

Consider the impact of introducing a femtocell into a small office environment of, say, 10 employees, or into a sales team’s hot desk area within the HQ of a larger company. The first effect is that indoor mobile service is both high quality and totally dependable. Not just as good as outside, but as good as the desk phone. Add a lower tariff for in-office calls, plus the benefit of using your own phone with your own contacts in the office, and the mobile becomes first choice every time.

But it doesn’t stop there. The femtocell knows which mobiles are in the office, and it provides easy access to call routing applications – a virtual PBX for example. So general incoming calls can be routed to a primary call recipient, or a hunt group, depending on who is in the office and who is busy. All of this can be offered with no extra equipment and no installation.


Small package, big business

Small offices do not necessarily mean small business. Many large companies are looking to increase productivity and reduce their energy footprint through home working programmes. But providing cost effective communications for home workers is a problem. A femtocell can provide a high quality, joined up mobile service in the home office at a very low cost. High speed 3G also means that under utilised services such as video calling can be used to connect home workers more closely to the organisation.

But what about the more general needs of small and medium sized businesses? Where people are forced to stand at a certain window to receive that vital call. Where you look up contact details on your mobile so you can dial it on your desk phone. How can the humble femtocell serve companies where a larger area or more people need to be covered? The answer is not to build a larger femtocell. It is to join up tiny femtocells into an intelligent grid.

This allows femtocells to hand calls between them as people move to different areas of the building and also load balance, so that users are passed from one device to another when one is at full capacity. It also allows femtocells to increase their coverage, to help out a femtocell neighbour in an area with a temporary concentration of handsets.

In conclusion, I would say that it is clear that femtocells offer a considerable business opportunity for mobile operators and their enterprise sales channels. By providing a wholly mobile solution that delivers competitively priced, high quality voice and data they offer a compelling option for delivering genuine fixed mobile convergence.

Ubiquisys, a 3G femtocell developer, was formed in 2004 to bring its groundbreaking ZoneGate femtocell technology to market.

World Wide Web visit www.ubiquisys.com
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