Posted on June 24, 2007
Filed Under Emerging Technology |
The femtocell market is quickly evolving. According to ABI Research the worldwide market for femtocell products is expected to reach nearly 36 million units by 2012. ABI Research principal analyst Stuart Carlaw says: “The real challenge today is balancing price with functionality. In order to get an affordable product on the market as early as possible, it is likely that most designers will opt for a basic feature set. However manufacturers and carriers alike will need to evolve this feature-set rapidly to take advantage of the femtocell offering’s full potential.” While I share optimism regarding femtocells as next technology after WiFi, I think that ABI figures are completely blown up. I spoke to a few experts in the field, none of them, even in their wild imagination mode, has come up with figures close to those of ABI Research.
UK-based startup PicoChip is emerging as leading provider of architecture for femtocells & 3G access points, delivering the breakthrough price & performance to make this market successful. Rupert Baines, VP Marketing picoChip, says: “The underlying technology is a multi-core DSP which is actually useful and usable by DSP engineers. This delivers ten times better performance-per-dollar and performance-per-watt than conventional DSP or FPGA. So our customers get far better performance for lower cost, power and the advantage this is totally programmable. In other words, we have achieved the software-defined-radio (well, software defined baseband, but we do have partners for radio). We are focused on wireless infrastructure - a very big market ($38bn a year, although obviously not all of that is for baseband). The two areas we are focused: WiMAX, where we are the leading supplier for basestations and femtocells, or a 3G access point: cheap enough to use at home and a way for carriers to compete with WiFi”.
An Access Point Base Station - sometimes called a femtocell - is a scalable, multi-channel, two-way communication device extending a typical base station by incorporating all of the major components of the telecommunications infrastructure. A typical example is a UMTS access point base station containing a Node-B, RNC and GSN with only an Ethernet or broadband connection (less commonly, ATM/TDM) connection to the Internet or Intranet. Application of VoIP allows such a unit to provide voice and data services in the same way as a normal base station, but with the deployment simplicity of a WiFi access point. Other examples include CDMA-2000 and WiMAX solutions.
The main benefits of an Access Point Base Station are its simplicity of deployment, low-cost and scalable design. Design studies have shown that access point base stations can be designed to scale from simple hot-spot coverage through to large deployments by racking such units into full-scale base-stations.
The claimed attractions for a cellular operator is that these devices can increase both capacity and coverage while reducing both capex and opex.
Access Point Base Stations are stand-alone units that are typically deployed in hot-spots, in-building and even in-home. Variations include attaching a WiFi router to allow a WiFi hot-spot to work as back-haul for a cellular hot-spot, or vice-versa.
Femtocells are an alternative way to deliver the benefits of Fixed Mobile Convergence. The distinction is that most FMC architectures require a new (dual-mode) handset, while a femtocell based deployment will work with existing handsets.
As a result, Access Point Base Stations must work with handsets that are compliant with existing RAN technologies. The reuse of existing RAN technologies (and potentially re-use of existing frequency channels) could create problems since the additional femtocell transmitters represent a large number of interference sources, potentially resulting in significant operational challenges for existing deployments. This is one of the biggest areas which femtocells must overcome if they are to be successful.
picoChip has recently secured $27 million of new investment in fourth round funding (read more PicoChip - advanced DSP technology for Software Defined Radio).