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June 04, 2009

WiMAX Advocates Eye Femtocell-Based Rollouts

By Michael Dinan
TMCnet Editor

Several months ago, as the fight for dominance in the emerging 4G technology space between long-term evolution and WiMAX (News - Alert) began to take shape, experts predicted that device selection formed the major barrier to femtocells becoming a major part of aggressive WiMAX rollouts.
And that was to be expected – WiMAX, at that this time last year, was in its beginning stages, and vendors, as they always do with a new technology, had to wait for network launches to reach a point that warranted wider deployment.
It appears that time has come.
Today, a pair of trade and advocacy groups – the WiMAX Forum and Femto Forumannounced that they’re pursuing a plan to bring high-speed broadband wireless access into homes and offices using femtocells. 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.
In this case, the two groups are developing specs for so-called “WiMAX Femtocell (News - Alert) Access Points,” or “WFAPs,” to address end-to-end QoS, provisioning, network entry and authentication, power optimization, and mobility management. The specifications will also support emergency services, lawful intercept, and location-based services, according to the groups.
According to the Femto Forum’s chairman, Simon Saunders (News - Alert), the devices will provide “a powerful new tool for WiMAX operators.
“By significantly increasing the number of cells in a wireless network using femtocells, operators can deliver a dramatically better service than using macro networks alone,” Saunders said. “This partnership will not only enable vendor interoperability and increased economies of scale thereby driving competition – it will also help to support far-reaching new femtocell applications.”
The shot in the arm couldn’t come too soon for WiMAX. Recently – just days in fact – after the United States’ largest wireless operator clarified its ambitious plans for a nationwide long-term evolution network launch – telecom researchers called for rapid growth for the next several years for LTE.
Officials at Pyramid Research predict that LTE subscriptions will grow at a rate of 404 percent annually between 2010 and 2014 – a faster pace even than today’s 3G mobile standard, a technology that may quickly go from “next-generation” to ho-hum as smartphones such as the iPhone 3G become commonplace.
According to Daniel Locke, analyst at Pyramid Research and author of the firm’s report, LTE may signal the first time that a critical mass of both operators and vendors are supporting the same mobile standard.
Specifically, Locke said, by using LTE’s more efficient and cost-effective flat IP architecture, mobile operators can transfer the savings to end users in the form of lower prices for access, faster data rates, and higher traffic allowances for a wider adoption of mobile data services.
“To date, 27 mobile operators worldwide have publicly committed to deploying LTE, with 12 of them expected to roll out commercial services in 2010 and the remainder during 2011 and 2012,” Locke said.
Meanwhile, Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum (News - Alert), said that operators are looking toward femtocells “to improve coverage and capacity while retaining the benefits of end-to-end Quality of Service management that is one of the great benefits of the WiMAX network.”
“WiMAX specifications will support WiMAX certification of interoperable vendor products,” Resnick said. “We look forward to interactions with the Femto Forum to ensure that our specifications take advantage of its expertise regarding industry best practices for femtocell deployments.”

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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.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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