How are femtocells enhancing CDMA networks?

December 3, 2010

The CDMA Development Group (CDG) and Femto Forum recently hosted a discussion on ‘How Femtocells are Enhancing CDMA Networks.”

James Person, COO, CDG was the moderator, while the panelists were Andy Germano, vice chairman, Femto Forum, Josh Adelson, director, Product Marketing, Airvana, and Sameer Lalwani, staff manager, Technology Valuation, Qualcomm.

Femto market update

Femto Forum

Femto Forum

Presenting a market update on femtos for CDMA, Andy Germano, vice chairman, Femto Forum, said femtocells have arrived and are shaping up into a key tool for mobile broadband service delivery.

There are 58 operators covering over 1.5 billion mobile subscribers – 33 percent of the global total. There are also 77 providers of femtocell technology covering all aspects of the ecosystem.

He highlighted some critical industry data points. For instance, the O2 network has seen an 18-fold increase in data carried over the network last year. Next, wireless data traffic on the AT&T network has grown more than 5,000 percent over the past three years.

So, why are people deploying femtocells? What’s driving growth? Naturally, the explosion of Internet connected devices — iPads, iPhones, and the like, are driving growth. There has been an exponential growth of mobile data traffic as well. Further, more than 80 percent of the traffic is indoors, and very little percentage of the traffic is mobile.

A femtocell is a simple, low cost, easy-to-install cellular access point for homes (and offices and metro areas). It is able to deliver fast, reliable service to standard phones over licensed spectrum. Further, femtocell is supported in 3G and next-generation standards by 3GPP, 3GPP2, WiMAX Forum, Broadband Forum, etc.

The shape of mobile networks has changed as well. As a data point, the US earlier had 200,000 macrocell sites. Today, the number of femtocells is greater than the number of macrocells — 350,000 femtocell sites as against 256,000 macrocell sites.

Deployments of femtocells were said to have gone up ~3X in 12 months. The number of  commercial deployments have also increased. As per Germano, some large CDMA operators such as Sprint, Verizon, KDDI, China Unicom, etc., have announced commercial deployments. In Nov. 2009, there were eight commitments and six deployments. In Oct 2010, there were 23 commitments and 17 deployments.

Rapid future growth likely
ABI Research estimates that there are over 60 ongoing operator trials. Further deployments are expected shortly. As per Informa, there has been significant growth reaching just under 49 million femtocell access points (FAPs) in the market by 2014 and 114 million mobile users during that year.

Healthy growth has been predicted with femtocell unit sales reaching 25 million in 2014. Juniper Research estimates that femtocell based 3G service revenue would likely be $9bn per annum by 2014.

Femto Forum also conducted a US-based consumer survey, carried out by Parks Associates. Some of the findings were:

Overall appeal: Fifty-six (56) percent find femtocells appealing (‘femto fans’). Less than 10 percent were previously familiar. Of the latter, 89 percent want a  femtocell.

Drivers: In-home coverage is the number one driver. Secondary drivers — handset battery life, faster mobile broadband, calling tariffs, advanced femtocell services, etc.

Services: Seventy-two (72) percent of femto fans very ikeen on at least one advanced service (eg. virtual home number), half of femto fans willing to pay $4.99/month  for favorite service or $9.99 for a bundle of three services.

What does the future hold?
In the future, femtocells won’t be only confined to the home. Femto technology has a wide range of applications. It is suitable for cost-effective deployment in offices, high-traffic or low coverage locations.

There will also be enterprise femtocells — overlay currently, integrated in the future. Also, there will be Metrozones, with capacity offload for rapid-response LTE service. Finally, femtos are also suitable for rural and developing markets via wireless backhaul. Germano said that the industry is witnessing an evolution from lower capacity units to higher capacity units.

Standards complete the picture
In June 2010, WiMAX femtocell standard publication was announced by WiMAX Forum and Femto Forum. In April 2010, release 9 provided feature enhancements for UMTS and end-to-end LTE femtocell support.

In March 2010, the first CDMA femtocell standard was announced by 3GPP2/CDG/Femto Forum. Femtocells now supported by all major mobile technologies.

In conclusion, Germano said that femtocells addressed immediate needs. Femtocells are here now, and growing fast. They provide a unique platform for mobile services. It is all about delivering a great mobile experience to one billion users via femto technology. 

Business cases for femtos
Josh Adelson, director, Product Marketing, Airvana, presented a femtos business case. As is evident, a lot of activity is going on in femtocells.

As for the business case, he advised that femtocells can be monetized in multiple ways. Operators can target femtocell offers to specific subscriber segments. The FF business case modeling tool provides a means to fine-tune and measure femtocell offers and their business impacts.

Sameer Lalwani, staff manager, Technology Valuation, Qualcomm, presented on femtos as a tool for data off-load. Data usage has been increasing rapidly. A majority of voice and data usage is now indoors.

Femtocells are a low cost solution to increase indoor coverage, increase capacity and  enhance user experience. He highlighted the CDMA2000 network architecture and the benefits of femto.

Femtos can be used to delay cell splitting or the need for additional carriers. Targeting heavy data users provides more bang for the buck. Also, femto cost recovery from subscribers would result in savings at lower traffic levels.

Earlier, James Person listed CDG’s six main areas of interest — devices, roaming, evolution,  advocacy, education, regulatory. CDG also has brands such as OMH, Smart Wireless  Modules and Services — an end to end SIG, WWA (CDG Wireless Academy), Global  Roaming Hub, Device Corner, World Mode.

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  1. Dr. Tim Mazumdar
    December 3, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    From LinkedIn:

    Dear Pradeep,

    I had a look at Airvana’s product. It is mostly a business case study with virtually nothing on call quality and how they hook femtocells together. I suspect that without adequate backhaul, this technology will also provide limited bandwidth. Whether this is real or is it something for the home or a cluster of houses remains to be seen.

  2. Dr. MP Divakar
    December 3, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    From LinkedIn:

    Pradeep & Tim: Yes, there are some valid use cases for femtocells, particularly in areas where the mobile network coverage is scant. But as Tim pointed out, without adequate backhaul and/or wired broadband access, this technology is of limited scope.

    And, if there is wired broadband access, femtocells make sense in situations where the mobile handsets are of older (than 3G/WiFi-enabled) generation and the mobile infrastructure is limited.

    The newer generation mobile handsets have various ways to connect to your broadband WiFi router (connected via DSL, cable modem or FTTH) which makes the need for femtocell void. I already use my iPod to connect with my mywireless router.

  3. Dr. MP Divakar
    December 3, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    From LinkedIn:

    One more point: You can buy AT&T’s femtocell products today in the US, in select areas. Let me know if you need further information on the product. I can put you in touch with one of the product managers of AT&T at San Ramon (we had an excellent tour of their facility, which included a demo of femtocells).

  4. December 3, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Many thanks for the excellent insights Dr Divakar sir and Dr Majumdar sir.. 🙂 What can be done to improve the backhaul — a point raised by both of you. Also, if the backhaul is indeed limited, how is it that the number of femtocells is more than the number of macrocells? Cost? What are the reasons?

  5. Mark
    December 7, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Actually, femtocells help both the access and the backhaul for a mobile cell system by offloading both, i.e., the home or office broadband connection carries the traffic into the network. This means that upgrades to macro backhaul also could be delayed saving operators money.

    Femtocells, like WiFi, APs, etc., ely on backhaul and average broadband rates are such that this isn’t a significant problem – microwave or satellite even could work. Some countries have fiber to the home or apartment complex making it even more attractive. This link is to a free tutorial on IEEE I came across on the topic – it covers alternatives and tradeoffs in solutions: comsoc.org/form/tutorial-registration-femtocells-opportunities-and-challenges

  6. Carmel
    August 3, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    This excellent website really has all of the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

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