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MWC As expected, femtocells are one of the big themes of this year's Mobile World Congress.

Operators like Vodafone UK, its joint venture SFR in France, Softbank in Japan and AT&T in the US are getting serious about their HSPA femto deployments in the home, and the industry is looking ahead to 'greater femtocells' - the ones that get beyond the living room into enterprises and the great outdoors.

Among a host of announcements, the leading silicon supplier for this segment, picoChip, was working hard to maintain its headstart as Qualcomm and others gear up to enter the market. It announced no fewer than six new customers, many coming from the Taiwanese ecosystem that is so vital to the mass adoption and price competitiveness of any emerging consumer product.

The new customers are Alpha Networks, Argela, Askey, C&S Micro, Contela and Zyxel, all of which will use the UK firm's PC302 picoXcell system-on-chip for HSPA(+). This is designed to reduce cost and time to market for vendors, and now has over 20 adopters, including Vodafone's femto supplier Alcatel-Lucent, and AT&T's, Cisco/ip.access.

Meanwhile, the femto players are looking ahead to LTE, where there are many indications from operators that tiny cells will play a big part in the strategy. The devices will be used from day one by some carriers - to offload data from the macrocell or to provide indoor coverage in high frequencies like 2.6GHz. They could also add capacity to deployments in low frequencies like 700MHz and even be used as a starting point for greenfield providers, which could then add macro networks later, explained Simon Saunders, chair of the Femto Forum.

Continuous Computing has been eyeing the femto market for several years from its heartlands in protocol stacks, core networking and traffic shaping. At MWC, it worked with picoChip and Cavium Networks to show the first complete LTE femtocell reference design. Available immediately, this includes the LTE modem, RF and packet processors, protocol software, intelligent router functionality and a complete Evolved Packet Core (EPC) simulator.

"The demand for LTE femtocells is unquestionable. We are already seeing operators asking for small cell access points to start testing in the second half of this year. Femtocells represent the key to avoiding the difficulties surrounding the first 3G deployments where roll-outs cost too much, took too long and did not meet user expectations," said Mike Dagenais, CEO of Continuous.

The reference design used a picoChip modem, mezzanine RF card and PHY software; Cavium's Octeon Plus multicore processor; and Continuous' Trillium LTE Layer 2/3 protocols, eNodeB reference application and EPC emulator. ®

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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