Analysts at the London office of a market research firm upped the ante today in a debate that’s been hotly discussed among hi-tech industry insiders for years, reporting that consumers will require more than 100 million fixed-mobile convergence access points by 2013.
Generally speaking, fixed-mobile convergence, or “FMC,” refers to providing both fixed and mobile telephony convergence in a single device that can switch between networks. WiFi, WiMax and femtocells are technologies that have emerged as solution competitors in the coveted FMC market. ABI predicts that consumers must see 103 million access points in five years.
In practical terms, according to ABI Research (News - Alert), thanks to successes by T-Mobile USA in the United States and Orange in Europe, UMA-based WiFi dual-mode solutions are gaining popularity. Now, the research firm reports, Sprint’s nationwide “AIRAVE” femtocell solution is gaining momentum.
According to ABI Vice President and Research Director Stuart Carlaw, cell-based femtocells will take over the baton from UMA- and SIP-based WiFi solutions by 2013, gaining 62 percent of the market.
“Although UMA-based WiFi solutions have seen early gains in greenfield markets, these solutions have not proliferated much outside their current carrier footprints,” Carlaw said. “This can be attributed partly to the carriers’ desire to assess femtocell developments, but also to lingering concerns regarding the concept of WiFi based fixed-mobile convergence.”
Femtocells (News - Alert) made news recently when officials at another research firm, Arizona-based In-Stat, reported that as more video is posted and shared on the Internet, and more mobile users access the Web, consumers will feel increasingly frustrated when their cell phones – which can still put a call through with a weak signal – start processing data very slowly.
Though operators are aware of the problem, according to In-Stat, it’s difficult to produce a strong wireless signal everywhere.
One option that wireless providers have is femtocells, experts say.
Originally known as an Access Point (News - Alert) Base Station, a femtocell is a small cellular bas station, typically designed for use in residential or small business environments, that connects to the service provider’s network through broadband. Generally speaking, a femtocell allows service providers to extend service coverage indoors.
According to In-Stat, femotcells usually can support 3 or 4 simultaneous subscribers while the subscriber foots most of the backhaul costs – “an operator’s dream,” he says.
“Femtocells remain expensive and supporting a consumer installed device could be costly for operators,” In-Stat writes. “Then there can be the problem of convincing the subscriber to effectively pay for coverage by purchasing a femtocell.”
TMC President and Group Editor-In-Chief Rich Tehrani (News - Alert) recently wrote about one resounding victory for femtocells, when Airvana just signed an OEM agreement with Motorola to provide CDMA femtocells to the wireless equipment company.
“This news is huge for Airvana and one assumes that Motorola (News - Alert) will leverage its myriad relationships with wireless carriers to get these devices installed as widely as possible,” Tehrani writes. “It will be very interesting to see how this market evolves and what sort of consumer and in-building calling plans these devices allow carriers to come up with.”
For Tehrani, the femtocell market is bustling with excitement because it is relatively new and allows cellular coverage to be improved at the last mile without the need for new base stations.
“In a sense, femtocells are the disruptive equivalent of RAID hard drives as they are low cost and, when aggregated, give carriers tremendous connectivity potential,” Tehrani said.
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael�s articles, please visit his columnist page.