Disruptive Analysis’ new report, “Femtocell-Aware
Mobile Handsets” is a forward-looking and provocative,
thought-leadership study, examining whether 2008's hottest new mobile
technology - femtocells (cellular home access points) - can really live up
to the promises of the vendors.
Can femtocells really work with normal 3G handsets? Or will
subscribers need to be provided with expensive upgrades to their existing
The femtocell industry is focusing on the short term
– getting initial trials in place, developing standards, and securing
commitments for early commercial deployment. But while focus is good – and
the industry does not want unnecessary distractions – there is a risk of
medium-term disappointment if certain future problems are not
addressed early enough.
Already, femto proponents are talking up massmarket
business models that go beyond simple indoor coverage and macro-network
offload. They are talking about 10’s of millions of subscribers, and new
“in-home” services for users, that exploit fast and cheap local mobile
But this is based on the notion that people will use
their cellphones differently when in range of femtos. There will
be different applications and behaviour when people are at home – perhaps
content backups, podcasts or even advertiser-sponsored TV programming. The
mobile phone may need to linked to TV, PC, HiFi or other items of domestic
This report argues that if the phone will be used
differently, it needs to be designed differently as well.
Standard phones can work with femtocells, but they are not
optimised. The phone needs to be “aware” of the femtocell,
ideally both in the radio and the application platform.
But the handset industry is much more complex and
slow-moving than many in the wider wireless business understand. It takes
often 2-3 years for changes in handset architecture to reach
commercially-sold handsets, and another 2-3 years to reach a broad
range of devices and reasonable penetration within the user base.
Recent developments in the 3GPP standards organisation
have already highlighted future changes that will impact the handset. Other
femtocell industry participants have demonstrated applications that need new
software and capabilities on phones.
The report cuts through the rhetoric about
"standard 3G phones", and looks at the reality of delivering future
massmarket femto services, in the hands and eyes of the end user.
The report looks at all the various "layers" of a
typical phone, and examines how the advent of femtocells will drive changes
Physical design & form-factor of the handset
Radio layer & protocol stack
Internal hardware - memory, power management etc
Handset operating system & connection manager
New femtocell-related applications & capabilities
The study includes forecasts for the overall femtocell
market, and scenarios examining how the evolution of femto-cell aware
handsets may evolve. It examines the value chain of the phone design &
manufacturing industry, and discusses the role of component suppliers, OS
specialists and industry bodies.
The report is 90 pages long, and is based on a
research effort spanning dozens of briefings, meeting and interviews, among a
of operators, femtocell and core network infrastructure suppliers, industry bodies, handsets vendors and software
The report has been researched & written by
Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, author of the Disruptive
Wireless blog, and a recognised global authority on femtocells, FMC, wireless VoIP and
mobile broadband. He has been covering the evolution of picocells and
femtocells since 2001.
In the past, Disruptive Analysis has
accurately predicted that adoption of other mobile innovations like IMS
and UMA would suffer from insufficient focus on handsets.
The same now applies to femtocells, unless
action is taken NOW.
Today’s 3G handsets will work
acceptably with femtocells at a basic level.
Disruptive Analysis’ baseline
forecast is for 19m femtos to ship in 2013, with an installed base of c30m
homes. Some other predictions are much higher.
Massmarket rollouts of
femtocells present future challenges in terms of handset radio protocols,
and also application support.
The mobile network industry
generally underestimates the time taken to add capabilities to handsets,
and get widespread adoption of the new devices.
The industry also
underestimates the amount of work needed to get new concepts working in
the hands of the end user. New protocols often require revised client
applications and user interface elements – and rigorous testing.
It can take 2-3 years from
concept to commercialisation for new handset features, and another 2+
years for a wide range of phones to be available.
In dense deployments of
femtocells, handsets can spend too much time & power attempting to connect
at locations that are not their own “home zone”.
There can also be issues where
handsets “reselect” the macro network under certain conditions, rather
than remaining connected to the femtocell.
Various scenarios for
provisioning femto access could benefit from a client application on the
phone – for example, enabling “guest access”.
The new 3GPP Release 8
specifications contain various modifications to enable handsets to work
better with femtos (called Home NodeB’s)
The first R8-compliant phones
will likely be shipped at the end of 2010.
Various suggestions have been
made for “femto-zone” services - but there is no standardised way for
handset applications to “know” they are on the femto.
Although there are various
workarounds, with the network notifying the application when the phone is
attached to the femto, this approach is not easily scalable to the wider
base of developers or operators.
The best solution is for
handset “connection manager” software to explicitly recognise femtocell
access as a new and specific type of bearer.
Handset OS platforms should
expose interfaces (APIs) for application developers to determine when the
phone is in a femtozone.
The most likely femto-aware
applications are for content backup & sharing, automated downloads,
presence, integration with home consumer electronics, VoIP and
There are opportunities for new
types of femto-centric mobile device, intended just for use in the home.
An example is a standalone 3G radio.
Usage of handsets on femtocells
may throw up unexpected side-effects, relating to faster / cheaper data
connections. This may impact elements of design such as memory allocation
and power management.
Operators could benefit from
new revenue streams from advertisers & other third parties by enabling the
provision of “at home” services via femtocells.
Using Disruptive Analysis’
baseline forecasts, there should be a demand for at least 48m femto-aware
handsets to be sold to femtocell owners in 2013.
However, with more optimistic
forecasts, and especially if “shared” femtocell models become popular,
there could potentially be a demand for up to 300m femto-aware handsets
per year in 2013.
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