Telecommunications solution provider Alcatel-Lucent announced the availability of a "small cell" (femtocell) wireless solution designed to help service providers better serve customers inside of buildings that typically suffer from poor wireless voice and data coverage.
The company argues that its small cell offering for enterprises not only improves coverage in office environments, but it also provides increased data capacity and throughput, making it possible to introduce a variety of high-bandwidth applications. However, recent findings suggest security issues with femtocell technology remain a concern.
The small cell offering builds on Alcatel-Lucent's femto base station router, a platform that includes third-generation (3G) W-CDMA/HSPA radio access and core network elements. Many office environments suffer from poor radio frequency penetration, particularly in older buildings. According to research from Informa Telecoms & Media, femtocell technology is experiencing the first signs of maturity, with several Tier 1 operators deploying the technology using a variety of business models. There are currently 12 service commitments, including nine commercial launches and several ongoing trials, while completed trials are now progressing into deployment plans for several mobile operators. This contrasts with eight femtocell service commitments and six commercial launches in November 2009.
Small cells solve the problem of poor frequency transmission while offering the added benefit of offloading local traffic onto available wireline broadband infrastructures. This, in turn, reduces the demand on mobile data networks. The solution features Alcatel-Lucent's auto-configuration capability, which helps reduce the operational burden on operators and features device management capabilities provided by the Motive Home Device Manager. Motive is a division of Alcatel-Lucent and the leading provider of device management solutions.
"Demand for mobile data services is growing dramatically, and business applications represent a particularly promising market for mobile service providers," said Wim Sweldens, president of Alcatel-Lucent's wireless activities. "Our small cell offering for enterprises is perfectly suited to addressing the needs of businesses for uninterrupted, high-quality mobile connectivity on their premises."
According to Informa, in the past quarter French operator SFR, Portuguese operator Optimus and Chinese operator China Unicom have commercially launched femtocell services and both Japan's KDDI and France's Free have also committed to the technology. Additionally, Vodafone has relaunched its femtocell offering under the "Sure Signal" brand and is realizing considerable success in the United Kingdom, spearheading the entrance of femtocell services in the European market.
Vodafone rebranded the femtocell service to make the proposition clearer to end users while differentiating from its competition by eliminating indoor coverage dead spots. As a result of growing operator commitment to the technology, all Tier 1 equipment vendors have now committed to supporting open standards and are actively working on integrating femtocell gateways into their solutions.
Informa said it expects the femtocell market to experience significant growth over the next few years, reaching just under 49 million femtocell access points (FAPs) in the market by 2014 and 114 million mobile users accessing mobile networks through femtocells during that year. The company said "healthy growth" is anticipated throughout the forecast period, with femtocell unit sales reaching 25 million in 2014 alone.