A couple of weeks ago, ABI Research issued a release touting the potential value of femtozones, describing them as applications that use femtocell technology. (For more, click here).

One example of a femtozone is a family alert system. A young person arrives at the family home, and the femtocell there registers the presence of his or her mobile phone, sending out a SMS notification to the parents.

But perhaps the femtocell industry is grasping for possible new uses for its product because the uptake of femtocells to enhance indoor cellular coverage has not been great.

Earl Lum, principal of EJL Wireless Research, says, "The issue I have with (femtozones) is that you’re targeting the smartphone as the primary phone that you want on a femtocell. Almost all smartphones have a Wi-Fi access connection without the need of an additional box."

Lum has programmed his own smartphone so that when he’s at home, the phone switches to Wi-Fi mode, as opposed to operating on a 3G or 4G network.

"Your mobile phone has ways of talking to the network via the technology you’re on: CDMA or GSM," he says. "The other way phones can talk is via a Wi-Fi access point. If the operator allows you to talk over Wi-Fi, which is simply a software-enabling technology, you could talk over a Wi-Fi access point and turn your 3G or 4G off."

The home router with Wi-Fi also can be used to surf the Internet via the smartphone. "There are a lot of ways to connect the box that already exists in most households," says Lum. "If you’re in the middle of nowhere or if your phone doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you might need to get that femtocell."

Lum believes the femtocell market has not taken off because it’s a single-deployment thing that consumers don’t feel they really need: "We’re at the point where just over one million femtocells were shipped last year. When was the last time you replaced your router?"

ABI Research did acknowledge that femtozones might have an uphill climb. ABI practice director Aditya Kaul said in a statement, “Femtozone services will be bundled with femtocell subscriptions and will also be available individually, increasing the perceived value of having a femtocell in the home…but operators need to act fast, as the popularity of Wi-Fi-/GPS-based over-the-top applications could pose a hindrance.”

Although femtocells struggle to find a business case, their stronger picocell cousins might have more success. In August 2010, BelAir Networks’ Strand Picocell was voted “Best New Idea Likely to Succeed” following informal polling at the CableLabs Innovation Showcase. (For more, click here).

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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