Femtos, or for those those (that’s a deliberate repetition) who like redundancy, femtocells, are getting more traction today than a rear-wheel drive BMW in a snowstorm. Of course, anyone who’s driven a Beemer on a slick road knows that’s not a lot of attraction, but still, femtos are putting the rubber to the road in the whiteboard world.

Femtos are a good way for mobile operators to boost their in-building coverage and screw broadband providers on the backhaul, but they really present a model that’s rife with pitfalls and pratfalls. Just for starters, for a femto to be effective, it must be cheap (which it’s not) and operate with more than one wireless frequency or access method (which it doesn’t).

The more appropriate method to help consumers with in-home mobile connectivity, especially in the shorter term, is one that cable has been pushing for a while: fixed-mobile convergence or, short of that, a Wi-Fi backhaul connected directly to a dual-model cellular-Wi-Fi phone. Like femtos, the model’s not quite there, but, unlike femtos, it’s close, according to Anton Wahlman, managing director of ThinkEquity Partners.

While dual-mode phones are not common, consumers, hungry for new features, shiny new gadgets and taught by mobile carriers to want the latest and greatest at all times, turn over their phones faster than batteries can run down – and that’s pretty damned fast – and most new phones will soon have a Wi-Fi component. Within a few years it’s likely dual-mode phones will be, if not ubiquitous, pretty widespread.

"The analogy with hybrid cars is almost perfect," said Wahlman. "Hybrid cars cannot be super popular outside the devoted (environmentalists) as long as (Honda‘s) Prius is the only car available, but once you start putting hybrid technology in the types of cars that the vast majority of people normally buy … it becomes a no-brainer to get a hybrid. I can argue in the case of a dual-mode phone that the cost savings are far greater than a hybrid car, and the incremental cost is even better. Just like hybrid cars, you’ll go from only one or two models that appeal to a segment of the population that really wants those … to the point where we’re getting into the mainstream." Femto prison cells The same can’t be said of femtos, which, even when prices come down in a year or so, will be restricted to certain mobile carriers operating within certain spectrum and using certain network technology. While it would seem that’s good news for the cable industry because femtos run counter to everything cable believes about hoarding its customer assets, Wahlman shrugs the threat off as no big deal.

"They could, from day one, have turned off Vonage," Wahlman said. "All these guys have deep packet inspection; they can just degrade the traffic or just block it in one second flat."

Right, but they haven’t "because somebody’s always watching them," he argued. "If they catch them with a hand in the cookie jar actually doing that deliberately to the traffic, somebody in the not-so-great city of Washington, D.C., may just become a little upset."

Woody Ritchey, new CEO of NextPoint, a new company that was spawned when NexTone and Reef Point merged this week, offered an even better reason why cable shouldn’t care about femtos: "We’re seeing an awful lot of interest that I can’t disclose because of the non-disclosures, but we’re in fairly deep discussions with multiple cable providers around femto."

Everyone wants to be untethered, he said, and with 35 percent of all in-residence phone calls being made on mobile, cable operators "realize (subscribers are) not using the cable voice product, and they have to figure out something in concert with partners – it might be SpectrumCo or Pivot or have to have a solution of their own that really compels their subscribers to want to use more of their services. That’s why femtos get a lot of interest in the cable play," Ritchey suggested.

Hmmmmmmmm. Cable and femtos, perfect together? There have been stranger bedfellows …. – Jim Barthold

The Daily

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