5 Mar 2012

Efficient CellMax Antenna. A good "SmallCell" delayer

I've just come back from MWC'12. Like last year Small Cells featured heavily in the convention, and almost every mainstream infrastructure vendor has something which they claim either support or facilitate Small Cell Technology.

The Small Cell paradigm assumes that Small Cells are the solution to the radio network capacity and coverage challenges. There are other benefits that are often talked about, but ultimately the "many folds" of increase in capacity and the "scalable" coverage are the key ones.

The scale of coverage and capacity challenges in a network depends on the provider. I guess there is a lot of room to tackle the challenges incrementaly instead of making a revolutionary leap towards Small Cells, or at least delaying it.

One of the simple yet innovative products I saw in MWC is the efficient antenna designed by the Swedish company CellMax
The idea is very simple: Eliminate or reduce the 20%-60% of heat losses and regain 3dB of gain. This enables CellMax to provide antennas that can achieve 21dBi of gain without loss of beamwidth.
This compares favourably with mainstream antennas, which in order to achieve higher gain have to sacrifice beamwidth.

Data hungry applications require a descent signal to achieve useful data rates, thus simply upgrading the antennas in the network to give you a better footprint with 3dB more power should increase the achievable data throughput. Therefore it's no surprise that CellMax provides antennas for UMTS and LTE but not for less data centric technologies.

10 Mar 2011

In the US: a federal bill to proposes femtocells in every federal building in the country

The bill proposes installation of femtocells and WiFi hotspots in about 9,000 buildings owned and operated by the US GSA, and to be mandatory in any future federal structures.
The bill also asks for a $15 million budget for the performance of retrofitting and future installs.

Click for details here

The influence of industries and businesses over governance bodies is not new to the US. If this bill goes through it will give a push to the often thought "disruptive" femtocell technology.

24 Dec 2009

Fetmo Access Point: Is the interference problem a big Red Herring?

If Femtocells were to operate on a frequency that is shared with the macro network in a restricted mode (i.e. only specific users can access a particular Femtocell), there is a concern that interference between the two layers may create a doomsday scenario.

For some reason, many think that the uplink interference from Femto users will jam the macro recievers and cause macro uplink coverage to deterioate. Some technologists and vendors have responded to this challange by developing extremely complex techniques. I have seen documents on both FemtoForum and 3GPP talking about things like:
- an interface between the macro layer and femtocells to exchange radio specific contexts.
- A "cognitive pilot channel" proposal that seems to be at least 15 years ahead of its time.
- Proposals to use uplink interference cancellation technology in femtocells.
- Suggestions that only LTE access points and release 8 (or 9) handsets will eliminate the interference problem.

All of the above is very interesting for a technologist. Ofcourse there is always a way to make things better, but there are also other considerations: value added, cost, market segment, technology application, market drivers ...etc, otherwise we would be all driving a Ferrari or a Porsche.

Looking at this interference issue, I can't help point out a number of things:
- I believe that more than half of femtocell deployments will end up using a dedicated carrier.
- In the absence of a femtocell, the user will go on the macro network and will create an amount of noise rise anyway. When you put a femtocell close-by the user will radiate less power and create less noise rise to the macro site. There is at least a 25-30dB reduction in path loss, so the femto users will radiate much less power than if they are using the nearest macro cell.
- A residential femtocell will only support a very limited number of users, so the interfernce limit ishardly ever reached and additional uplink interference from macro users operating in the vicinity will hardly block the femtocell uplink.

Is is possible that theso called interference problem is nothing but a big red herring?

10 Dec 2009

The indoor coverage proposition

Mobile access has become a neccessity not a luxury. Mobile operators are morphing and changing into utility-like companies, unfortunately this does not go hand-in-hand with the way mobile technology is evolving. Operators are not even close to tapping into the vast capabilities and strengths of their existing technologies and yet they talk about evolving and changing their infrastructure. It's good for a new player on the block to start with the latest "bleeding-edge" technology.. for the incumbants there are so many ways to enhance and increase their value proposition.

I'm increasingly convinced that the mere extension of cheap radio coverage into indoor and deep indoor areas has a great potential for operators. Moreover, using access points and repeaters to cheaply increase spectrum re-use many folds has a great advantage.

The choice between upgrading macro sites from UMTS to, say, HSPA+ (or LTE) and between increasing spectrum re-use a multiple folds (by using cheap access points or repeaters) is a no brainer to me, especially that the cost of adding access points and repeaters is on par with the cost of handset subsidy per user.

27 Nov 2008

Femtocells: Small is Beautiful

It's bizarre that some are talking about a 16 call femtocell. The whole idea of a femtocell is that it's a compact consumer device that provides adequate coverage and capacity within the home or place of work. Having a 16 call femtocell at home or in a shop is like driving your own bus to work everyday. It will get you to work, inefficiently, painfully and probably late...

My view is that what is often flagged as a high capacity femtocell is a re-branded picocell. This is because some vendors got the wrong end of the stick when they assumed that a femtocell is simply a downsized picocell, so they picked their existing picocell products, massaged transmission power and capacity to make it feel like a femtocell, and then branded it as a femtocell product.

A femtocell is not about putting a transmission mast at home or work. It is not a shrunk picocell. It is not a picocell with cheap IP backhaul. I believe that the term "femtocell" should get a better and clearer definition to avoid muddying the water and confusing customers.

Nobody will gain out of reducing the femtocell race to a simple "umph" comparison. Why? because operators who examine the so-called "high capacity femtocells" closely will lose faith in the whole femtocell technology. The femtocell concept is about deploying thousands and thousands of these small cells everywhere. Potentially the number of femtocells in a network will be many folds the number of macro sites the operator owns. Operators should not be drawn into the "My femtocell is bigger and meaner than yours" rhetoric and should concentrate on what the product offers in terms of simplicity of deployement, provisioning, configuration and management.

What's the point of having thousands of high capacity small picocells "aka big and mean femto :-)" if:
1. you do not have the processes to provision them and distribute them to your consumers in an efficient and streamlined fashion?
2. you have to partially or fully configure and radio engineer each one?
3. You have to manually change their configuration every time you do an optimisation sweep on your macro network?
3. you can't manage them in volume?

It's unfortunate that some vendors have concentrated on the technology parity with traditional indoor solutions and totally ignored what is truly important and exciting about the femtocell concept.

There is an urgent need to better clarify and define what a femtocell is. I will make few attempts to do so in my next few postings.

25 Nov 2008

The hidden benefits of femtocells

I have spent some time now looking at various femtocell business cases and find it very interesting how creative some of the operators are when it comes to using femtocells to generate new revenue streams.

It occured to me that sometimes it's the straightforward and simple things that get over looked in these business cases, and I wanted to go back to basics and look at the simplest scenario of using a femtocell to generate revenue.

One of the revenue streams that operators rely on is the income from call termination charges. All operators negotaite commerical wholesale interconnection agreements with other operators, these are often wholesale agreements regulating the conditions under which the agreement parties can connect to each other.

The call termination rate is a wholesale price one network pays in order to terminate a call originating from its own network to a destination in the other network. Typically, the call termination rates are based on an average cost of delivery plus a margin.

With the increased regulatory pressure to reduce call termination rates (e.g. in UK and Europe) operators are having to drop their margins and have to live on a smaller revenue stream from terminating calls from other networks. Changes to termination rates is having a significant impact on the profits of mobile telecoms companies.

The average cost of delivering mobile terminated calls is greatly reduced if the penetration of femtocells in the network is high enough. And therefore it becomes cheaper -on average - to terminate calls from other networks. This automatically translates into higher call termination profits.

5 Nov 2008

Bringing technological innovation and commercial sense together

The mobile telecomm industry has evolved from few simple be-spoke systems to highly complicated and convoluted solutions that require an army of experts to anlayse and understand.

With the myriad of technologies available, there are many nice innovative ideas out there. Technologically innovative ideas can be exciting and have a hypnotic effect on all of us technologist. However, very few ideas make commercial sense.

For an innovative product/system/solution to make a commercial sense first and foremost it has to fullfil a need. The need could be purely financial such as generating more revenue, or strategic such as winning market share...etc. It has also to offer added value compared to any other -less innovative- products. It has also to be cost effective.

There is great value in futuristic thinking and spending money and effort on R&D to develop ideas and expand the horizons, but a pre-mature talk about market readiness and wrapping everything up in a mediocre (at best) business propostition misses the whole argument about a need-driven-innovation.

3 Nov 2008

The business case for femtocells in the Middle East.

Etisalat is the first operator in the Middle East who shows interest in FemtoCells, and therefore they asked us at Ubiquisys to showcase their femtocell on the Etisalat stand at Gitex 2008. They branded the product “Etisalat Home Cell”.

So we took few units and demonstrated the first commercial femtocell ever in the Middle East and I ended up spending a week in Dubai during the Gitex technology week at Gulfcomms 2008.

Etisalat were very surprised at the level of maturity of this technology: first they were amazed how far the femtocell coverage can extend with only 10mW of transmission power! Then the surprise turned to admiration when we showed some of the applications of femtocells that go beyond the traditional voice + mobile broadband. The spare femtocell I had with me kept disappearing from time to time, and then I figured out that Etisalat marketing folks were borrowing it to show to journalists and TV stations covering the event . They also kept bringing VIPs to the stand from various ministries and governmental bodies as well as investors to have a look at the femtocell.

After the news hit the net and newspapers that our femtocell is at Gitex2008,
I had a busy week talking to delegates from almost every operator in the region, all keen to find out more about this interesting product. I even had a number of industry analysts who were keen to see the femtocell in action: they heard a lot about this product but never had the chance to see it in action before.

After talking to CTOs and CMOs of the top operators in the Middle East, it was very obvious why there will be a clear winning business case for 3G femtocells in the region. First of all, all operators without exception are struggling with 3G coverage indoors. One CTO has complained that UMTS technology means that the inter-site distance has to be relatively smaller in comparison to GSM in order to provide adequate indoor coverage even for the taken-for-granted voice telephony. Many operators have expansion plans to beef up their 3G networks and add sites in order to improve the quality of coverage indoors. The budgets allocated for these expansion projects can almost buy them a femtocell for every household in the country! So at least from a cost-effectiveness point of view femtocells are a clear winner

The building material and density of urban structures in the Middle East is particularly challenging to cover with a conventional network. Reinforced concrete is widely used, and towers from 30 stories upwards are springing up every day. Some of the commercial towers have expensive distributed indoor systems which are usually installed during construction. Clearly the femtocell proposition is a more cost effective way of providing indoor coverage for the office and home apartment. In summary, most of the commercial people I met immediately recognised the opportunities that femtocells can bring.

However, there are few things that have to be said about the commercial challenges to bring complete femtocell networks to the region. First of all, innovation and the desire to try new ideas is still not an outlook that you face regularly among the Middle Eastern operators. This however is slowly changing. I was positively surprised at the number of innovative offerings Etisalat was offering during the event.

Second, it did seem to me that decision making is not based on any clear or spelt out processes. For example, one operator explained that they ruled out femtocell in the past because their “3G expert” has suggested that (from a technical point of view) the idea will not fly off the ground. After checking with their3G expert, it turns out his source was a single IEE paper written by opponents of femtocells when they were trying to dilute the discussion at 3GPP (the standard body). The number of people involved in the decision process is fairly limited and not diligent enough.

A major difficulty is also lack of visibility of small and innovative companies involved in the development and making of femtocells. Operators want to deal with big vendors directly, and they get suspicious of vendors trying to become System Integrators of smaller companies. Therefore operators are more willing to work with the likes of Huawei and Alcatel. The big vendors have got the most to lose out of introducing femtocells, and therefore they take any opportunity to badmouth the concept and the technology.

All in all, it was exciting to be able to show a really cool product to a very receptive audience. I have no doubt that femtocells will change the game of Middle Eastern operators. I’ll be there again at the Comms World GSM >3G event in December.

27 Aug 2008

40 mil. femtos to be deployed by 2013

Link to Telecom.com

Interesting analysis, though it's coming from a market demand point of view.
This expectation is contingent on availability of commcercially viable femtoceels, in terms of pricing as well as technology stability. Both aspects are perfectly achievable, but the question is who will achieve them first.

19 Oct 2007

Femtocells are much more than cheap telephony

The compelling selling points of femtocells are increasingly becoming more noticeable.

The apparent strong compelling factor is the disruptive value proposition in terms of cost of delivering a minute of calls (or Mbytes of data) to the end user. Another obvious one is related to service bundling and other innovative marketing ideas.

One area that is increasingly getting attention is the femtocell as platform for added value services (VAS) . The femtocell concept can be extended to make it an integrated 3G access point and intelligent home gateway that offers added value services to the customer. Imagine what can be achieved if a mobile operator can offer something like this, but with a proper cellular flavored radio. This will make femtocells ideal candidates for IMS type of deployments.

The femtoell can also be used as a content distribution platform. In this model content/services/application can be pushed to the UE when the femtocell senses the UE is in its vicinity.

Even a more exciting proposition, is what I call Reverse Content Distribution, where a roaming user outside the femtocell zone can access his content remotely. The femto can orchestrate the user’s access to various equipments at home, such as the PC, Home Media Server, Apple TV, …etc. It can also perform various remote home control functions, like switch on the heating, prepare the bath, access the burglar alarm …etc. There are various mechanisms to enable this. For example, it can be via a femto access interface on the application level. Alternatively, the femtocell can be a passive element and home control can be achieved pretty much in the same way it can be done today from a PC across the internet.

8 Aug 2007

7 Aug 2007

Three areas unexploited enough by Femtocell marketing efforts

The three points talked about in every Femtocell customer meeting:
1 - Price and potential savings
2 - The indoor coverage advantage
3 - Architecture and how to integrate with existing network infrastructure

The Femtocell marketing effort can benefit from addressing three other areas:
1- Targeting new breed of customers: Most of the effort is spent towards soliciting the traditional operators (VF, FT/Orange, T-Mobile ...etc), all of which either already have mature networks or in the process of building them. One of the important selling points of the Femtocell concept is that the network can be operational from the day the first router is shipped. There is no time wasted acquiring sites and building them....etc. Therefore the prospects for new entrants are great and therefore targeting these new market entrants instead of traditional operators is a good strategy. These new entrants will have a discernibly different business model from the traditional mobile operator model.
2- High rise buildings and vertical cities: I don't know why everybody assumes that Femtocells are ideal for the typical US and European suburbia. Most people around the world live in flats in high rise buildings, tower blocks and apartments. I'd like to see the Femtocell concept pitched for this type of deployment. The benefit over typical macro deployment is easily recognisable.
3- Community Networking: I've talked about this in a previous post. This is essentially copying the FON model of community based networking. This also requires the emergence of a new breed of operators who are ready to experiment with new business models instead of the traditional linking of minutes and ARPU.

More on Google's interest in Femtocell Technology

...here are more dots to connect:

- FCC revises 700MHz band rules to facilitate "new and innovative wireless broadband services for consumers"....read here.

- Rumours about Google phone, to be available end of 2007.... read here.

- Google wants to redefine the principles of wireless market. Read here about Google's plans to replicate the openness of the broadband environment in the wireless environment. Mobile operators: prepare yourselves to become utility companies!.

6 Aug 2007

Google's Interest in Femtocell technology

So why is Google interested in Femto cells?

One view is that Google may be the first new breed of mobile operators. For a green field entrant the prospects of building a distributed network using Femto Cell technology surely has some benefit: the network is operational the minute the first Femto box is plugged in the wall and no valuable time is wasted acquiring sites, radio planning and optimising coverage...etc.

Another view is that Google is interested in the potentially disruptive model of community based networking such as the one propelled by FON. Clearly Femto Cell based community networks have a similar appeal, and hence Google's interest.

FemtoCells on BBC News

Here is a link to an article on BBC Technology News with a good summary of the case for Femtocells from a user's and operator's points of view.

22 Jul 2007

Google invests $25 million in Ubiquisys

The recent news of Google's $25 million investment in Ubiquisys is the beggining of a major change in the race to win the Femtocell race.

While architecture, coverage and RF performance are some of the important areas to keep a close eye on, content and applications will be the major differentiating aspects. I talked in a previous post about content personalisation and customisation possibibilities with FemtoCell solutions, which is going to be an exciting area to watch over the next 6 months.

18 Jul 2007

Indoor FemtoCells and content personalisation

One of the tooted selling points of FemtoCells is the enhanced user experience indoors. There is no doubt that in terms of radio coverage the FemtoCell will enable a more uniform and better RF signal indoors.

The story does not end there however. The underlying concept of "convergence" with FemtoCells will give content personalisation and customisation a whole new dimension. In addition to simple signal radiation, a FemtoCell router serving 2-3 mobiles can also perform a whole bunch of other tasks on behalf of users. This is a new uncharted territory with a poetic license to daydream. A variant of social networking can also emerge if it is embraced by the new breed of "converged" operators.

With Google putting effort on mobile content search, the FemtoCell era will be a very exciting and interesting period and one should expect interest in this technology to extend beyond the circle of traditional mobile operators.

13 Jul 2007

News coverage of the Femto Forum

Telecoms.com (Informa's telecomm business intelligence reporting outlet) has some interesting and insightful coverage of the Femto Forum meeting that took place in London on first week of July.

The article quotes Will Franks, CTO of Ubiquisys, as well as Dr. Simon Saunders, the newly appointed Chairman of the Femto Forum on the importance of bringing the femto vendors together and collaborate to reduce or eleminate femto solution fragmentation. There are various proposed architectures and it seems that one of the aims of the Femto Forum is to try to converge these solutions into a comprehensive standard that facilitates inter-working.

11 Jul 2007

ABI research femtocell vendor ranking results

This has been out for a while, I don't know why I kept delaying linking to it:
ABI research has ranked the various femtocell vendors. Check the news release here.
Their ranking criteria is based on two aspects: Implemention and Innovation. This ranking is by no means a ranking of the femtocell prodcuts only. It also takes into account the overall position of the relavent company/division in terms of finances and partnerships. (you can see the criteria here).

Based on the matrix, ABI research has compiled a list of the top 10 femtocell vendors. The top 3 are: Ubiquisys, ip.access and RadioFrame networks.

One thing that surprised me is that Alcatel-Lucent is listed as number 4, which I thought is rather over rated considering that their offering oscilates between an imaginary concept or a modified picocell product ( not purpose built as a femto product from the outset). This ofcourse depends on who you talk to in Alcatel-Lucent: French or American.

Reuters report on Femtocell featuring ip.access

Reuters made a short report on a femtocell demo organised by ip.access. Check it out here. (Thanks to Mr. Adnan Boustany from PicoChip for sending the link).

What I like the most about ip.access's approach is that they realised the importance of effective marketing to win customer confidence. In terms of technical performance and features I don't think they are far ahead or behind the other major femtocell developers. Nevertheless it seems their relentless marketing effort is paying off.