Femtocells win friends and influence people
This starts to look like reality
By Peter Judge, Techworld | Techworld | Published: 09:15, 21 May 2008
The Forum will take a "Net-head" view of the role of femtocells - collapsing functionality into the femto, so that it has intelligence to make the best use of the dumb pipe to the network. That's an important change in mindset for the operators in the group who come originally from a world of intelligent networks.
"Functionality that would have been in the network is going to be pushed out into the femto," says Saunders. "You can have a lot of intelligence in the AP where it's needed, so it can handle four good quality speech calls " Also, a lot of traffic will be localised, if the femto fulfils its roles as a home hub that carries media around. That, says Saunders, should be allowed independently of the operator.
It's also completely agnostic on the air interface, with femtos suggested for both LTE and WiMax - and already in use on Sprint's CDMA network.
How will standards appear?
The Forum does its work in plenary sessions - there is one this week in Reston Virginia - and these will create submissions that can go to standards bodies such as 3GPP. "It is only weeks before there will be actual standards contributions," says Saunders.
These contributions will be for small changes - "as small as possible" - to existing standards. The 3GPP recently upgraded femtos from a study topic to a committee work item, which means a standard will be developed.
Formally, the Forum is a "market representation partner" to the 3GPP and 3GPP2 bodies. "It's a seat at the top table," says Saunders. "We sit alongside groups like ETSI." However, the Forum doesn't get to submit standards work under its own name however - it has to be handed in by members, he explains.
The group also has co-operation agreements with the DSL Forum - whose TR069 protocol is going to be extended to manage femtos - and the GSMA.
Support from a Wi-Fi player?
Femtos have gained a surprising acknowledgement - from a vendor who might be expected to be downright hostile to the technology.
Wi-Fi vendor Aruba, has published a white paper assessing the potential for femtocells, and their likely competition with Wi-Fi.
Aruba warns that it won't happen overnight, and it doesn't cede the home network to the femto - but it suggests that Wi-Fi and femtos will have to be merged or combined in some way - something which Saunders also wants to see.
but its conclusion is surprisingly positive: "It will take some years, but the possibilities exposed by inexpensive femtocells in conjunction or competition with Wi-Fi access points promise considerable disruption to existing business models, to the ultimate benefit of consumers."
That sort of kudos from a Wi-Fi vendor could be a sign that femtos are making genuine progress towards reality. As Saunders say, "It's not a zero sum game."