SoftBank punts free ADSL for femtocell folk
Interested now? No?
Free ADSL and a free femtocell, but you still have to pay for mobile calls: Japanese punters now have a new business model from SoftBank Mobile.
Rather than offer better coverage, or discounted calls, SoftBank Mobile is turning the femtocell business around by offering free ADSL to anyone who'll extend the operator's coverage by fitting a femtocell into their home or business.
Femtocells are tiny, generally 3G, base stations that piggyback on the customer's broadband connection to route calls back to the operator's network. The utility of such technology is unquestioned, though some operators have found integration challenging and there's still a lot of debate around who pays for them.
SoftBank will be supplying free femtocells, made by Google-backed Ubiquisys, to home users as well as small businesses and retailers who fancy getting some free broadband and providing decent coverage for their own customers.
Existing femtocell deployments (including Vodafone in the UK) have played up the extended coverage – Vodafone brands its offering "Sure Signal" - but users are (effectively) paying twice as calls are charged as usual while the data sent over the ADSL counts against their ISP-issued allowance.
It's widely thought that discounted, or free, phone calls would be the killer feature driving the adoption of femtocells - which do, after all, unload the operator's infrastructure costs onto the customer.
But SoftBank has switched that around, asking customers to continue to pay for calls while it pays for the infrastructure in the form of ADSL to the customer's premises. Even better – existing femtocell deployments are limited to prevent any passing customer taking advantage of the femtocell-user's broadband, but as SoftBank is paying for the ADSL there's no reason to do that and the network gains genuinely increased coverage.
That's going to work better in Japan, where population density allows a single femtocell to cover a greater number of people/apartments/houses, but the concept is intriguing and would scale well into LTE (4G) networks. Whether anyone else will emulate SoftBank's approach remains to be seen, but certainly the industry will be watching to see if SoftBank, and Ubiquisys, can make it pay. ®
LTE doesn't work like that!
Having a bunch of OFDM (whether LTE or WiMax) femtocells is a terrible idea!
OFDM uses a bunch of narrow band carriers for data transport. These carriers must be allocated between transmitting sites so as not to have interference among the different transmitters, be those transmitters the base station, femtocell, or mobile. The carrier allocation needs to be under the control of the area SoftBank (for example) infrastructure - that means much more control channel traffic to/from the femtocells, base stations, and mobiles, and extra computing power for the allocation algorithm to deal with the new femtocells!
This could all go horribly wrong. With cdma it works easily, with OFDM, NOT!
Internet not so big in Japan
While local loop is fast, accessing the rest of the world is not so much. Some quick measurements from Tokyo (speedtest.net) give 90/60Mbps local loop but 2.7/0.4Mbps to London. Not an exhaustive test by any stretch but pretty indicative.
funny how mobile broadband on 3G was supposed to let us relinquish our copper wires, but instead it ends up relying on the very subsystem it was advertised to be better than.