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Hot on the heels of news from Netgear, that it is to produce a home gateway with a built-in 3G femtocell, comes the formation of the Femto Forum. The group, which holds its first plenary meeting in Heathrow, London today, has been set up to prevent fragmentation of a decidedly immature industry.

Early members include the various manufacturers of femtocell technology and its associated support services, but the forum stresses that network operators are also queuing up to join: they just can't say who, or when they can supply more details.

Femtocells provide Wi-Fi functionality over 3G networks. For starters, they enable reliable 3G connectivity inside buidlings. The technology puts a very small, low-power transmitter/receiver inside the building and allows your 3G handset to connect to your own local cell and route calls over your ADSL line. The femtocell also connects to the home network, enabling content on the phone to be streamed to devices around the home, such as TVs and stereo systems, as well as giving the user access to all the normal 3G services at up to 7.2Mb/sec (assuming their handset supports HSDPA).

Operator-backing is essential for the success of the technology: the cellcos own the licences for the frequencies used, so without them no-one can deploy femtocells.

Forming an industry body is a sensible move: the business model revolves around cheap consumer hardware which will only happen if standards can be developed to allow mass production of compliant hardware; though with 3G, UMA, IMS and IP already involved it might seem that there are enough standards to go round.

Once the Femto Forum can announce a few operator members, and get them to commit to deployment, then femtocells should have a glorious future; but getting the operators to publicly sign up might prove harder than the forum imagines. ®

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