Femtocells hit the market, but is anyone buying?
Every vendor has a new femtocell home base station to hawk, but
In the last few months, the market has been flooded with femtocells targeting every conceivable radio interface and frequency. The rash of new products would seem to signify that the femtocell market is finally heating up and that we’ll start to see commercial deployments following hot on the heels of Sprint’s pilot launch last summer.
But in truth the industry is far from any kind of large-scale deployment on the home base station technology. The standards bodies still have a lot of work to do, the major industry movers still have to settle on one or at least whittle down the number of the multiple industry protocols that will carry femtocell voice and data traffic back to the core network. And at lot of grueling trial work has to be done around the world before femtocells start rolling off production lines en masse.
That hasn’t stopped the femtocell manufacturers, however, from churning out pre-standard products. Samsung beat everyone to market, though it made no official product announcement, letting its customer speak for it. When Sprint rolled out its customer pilot program in Denver and Kansas City, Samsung’s CDMA 1X home wireless router and core gateway powered the launch.
ZTE was first out of the gate with a product launch, unveiling a Wideband-CDMA femtocell, or as it calls it, a Home NodeB. A few weeks later, Airvana announced it had developed a femtocell supporting CDMA 1X and EV-DO radio interfaces—radio technology it was key in developing—and that those femtocells were currently in trials with unnamed network operators.
In November, software defined radio (SDR) technologist Vanu and Bitwave Semiconductor co-developed a femtocell that spanned multiple radio technologies and frequencies. Using the same Anywave SDR platform that Vanu uses to power dual-radio interface networks and Bitwave’s silicon, the two produced a box that transmits and receives CMDA or GSM signals and can be tuned to any of the cellular and PCS frequencies as well as the 700 MHz spectrum up for auction in January.
Shortly afterward, PicoChip announced its WiMAX Wave 2 femtocell reference design, not quite a femtocell itself, but an all-in-one architecture that set-top box makers can incorporate directly into any home gateway or router they build.
None of these products, though, are standardized. The 3GPP and the 3GPP2, responsible for standards for GSM and CDMA, respectively, are still hammering out the final specifications for femtocells. They’re expected to finalize those standards by next year, but even then the industry must tackle interoperability testing and certification. Commercial production of out-of-the-box mass-market femtocells couldn’t conceivably begin until 2009.
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