Deployments of femtocell technology, which provides localized wireless connectivity, have doubled globally over the last nine months, according to a study.
There are currently 16 service commitments, including 13 commercial launches of femtocell technology this year, double the eight service commitments and six commercial launches in 2009, according to research by data analysis firm Informa Telecoms & Media.
Femtocells are very low power wireless access points that connect standard mobile devices to a mobile operator's network using residential DSL or standard cable broadband. They offer high-quality residential mobile phone coverage for both voice and data, at a lower cost than outdoor service.
From a competitive perspective, femtocells are significant because mobile operators need to grab residential minutes from fixed providers and respond to emerging VoIP and Wi-Fi offerings, according to the Femto Forum, a worldwide industry body made up of operators and vendors.
Informa is predicting the femtocell technology market to reach 49 million units over the the next five years.
The news comes during the femtocell industry's third annual event, which is currently underway in London, and the sector's growing trend from novel idea to actual deployment, with several vendors and carriers pledging support. Carriers that have already done commercial launches of femtocell technology include KDDI and Softbank in Japan, and Vodafone and AT&T in Spain and the United Kingdom.
"The femtocell market is experiencing maturity with many of the largest operators in Asia, North America, and Europe now offering services," said Dimitris Mavrakis, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. "Global operator demand for femtocells is undeniable and recent femtocell standards milestones can only enhance this situation further.''
Mavrakis added that as mobile data traffic continues to rise at a rapid pace, femtocells are set to become a vital component of next-generation mobile broadband deployments. "This is reflected in the increasing interest in enterprise, metropolitan, and LTE models," he said.
AT&T has completed its nationwide rollout of residential femtocells and is now eyeing the enterprise, the carrier's executive director of radio networks, Gordon Mansfield, said at the conference. "Femtocells are now available to our customers anywhere in the continental U.S.," he said, and now AT&T wants to focus on the enterprise and integrate femtocells with Internet protocol PBXs. However, he added that there was no set timeframe for this to occur.
The mobile data boom and the subsequent increased demand on capacity is the biggest challenge currently facing mobile networks, said Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum, adding that femtocells are an ideal solution for offloading this data.
ABI Research is also predicting significant growth in the use of femtocell technology. "By 2011 there are forecast to be 102 million femtocell users,'' said Stuart Carlaw, principal analyst, in a white paper. "Femtocells look set to be an integral part of the operator push into fixed-mobile converged services [while] also providing considerable benefits in terms of in-building wireless coverage, capacity gain, and shaping user behavior."