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Femto forum gets big ideas

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The Femto Forum has hooked up with the Next Generation Mobile Network alliance to push femtocells into network planning for 4G deployments, potentially cutting costs and allowing a more phased roll-out.

The two bodies have agreed to work together developing the necessary standards to allow network operators, whether using WiMAX or LTE, to deploy femtocells as part of their network plan rather than just patch things up afterwards.

Femtocells are tiny base stations, about the size of a Wi-Fi router, which use operator-licensed frequencies to link existing mobile phones to broadband connections, taking the load of the radio network and improving coverage.

In the USA T-Mobile is already deploying 2G femtocells to provide coverage in customers' homes, but most operators are focusing on how femto technology can increase bandwidth and reduce network load - by delivering streams of video over ADSL to the customer's home, for example.

LTE or WiMAX networks will take time to build, and the Forum reckons that providing early adopters with a femtocell and a handset could quickly boost adoption and start the revenue stream while the rest of the network is still being built. That's what Sprint seems to have in mind for its WiMAX deployment in the US, where Comcast will be providing broadband connectivity to customers' homes and a WiMAX femtocell will provide coverage there.

The NGMN would also like to see 4G networks using some of the technology femtocells rely on. The ability to self-configure and grab spectrum based on local usage, for example, is currently unique to femtocells but could be scaled up and applied to the whole network for quicker deployment.

Next generation networks such as LTE could in theory deliver speeds of several hundred Mb/sec on the move, which might be more than most people need but it would be a shame to find out the bottleneck in your wireless network is the broadband wires to your house. ®

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