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Femtocells get a bit bigger

Operators sign up to promotional forum

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The Femto Forum has managed to bag some network operators and infrastructure providers, adding 40 companies to its roster and looking a lot less like a club for femtocell manufacturers.

The forum was launched back in July, but was almost entirely made up of those making femtocells who have something of a vested interest. The only recognisable brand back then was NetGear, but the group has spent the last three months convincing network operators to put their hands on the table and publicly endorse the technology.

O2 is about to launch femtocell trials, so its membership comes as no great surprise, but Carphone Warehouse Networks, Nokia-Siemens and NEC are interesting names to see, and Rogers Wireless, Unwired and Comcast lend some credibility to the forum.

Other operators are apparently just completing the paperwork before announcing their involvement, though they could equally well be waiting to see if the price of the femtocell hardware drops before committing to the technology.

While primarily intended to promote the technology, and encourage its use, the Femto Forum will also recommend standards and deployment architectures, with the intention of creating an interoperable environment where customers can choose from a range of femtocell devices in the same way they pick a phone handset today.

In the US, Sprint is already deploying femtocells from Samsung (notably not a member of the forum), and Motorola (which is a member) announced this week that it's providing kit for a large-scale-3G trial somewhere in Europe, so there seems little doubt that femtocells are coming and will see widescale deployments.

Whether network operators (the only people who can deploy the technology) decide to use them to provide exciting new multimedia services, or just extend their network coverage, remains to be seen. ®

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