Femto Cell Advocates Look Forward to 4G

The Femto Forum on Thursday announced it has joined forces with the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance, as it starts to look beyond the use of femto cells in current mobile networks.

Femto cells are small base stations for wireless home broadband. They improve indoor coverage and increase capacity. When a user is making calls and surfing the Web with a phone or laptop equipped with wireless broadband, signals are sent via the femto cell and a fixed broadband connection.

So far the Forum has spent a lot of its energy on 3G (third-generation) networks, but it will now also start to look forward, and adapt femto cells to become a part of upcoming next-generation networks, based on, for example, WiMax or LTE (Long Term Evolution).

"We want femto cells to be ready from day one, whenever it may be," said Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum.

The NGMN Alliance's member list includes AT&T, China Mobile and Vodafone. The group's mission is to complement and support the work within standardization bodies by providing a coherent view of what the operator community is going to require in the decade beyond 2010, according to its Web site.

One of those requirements is, for example, the need for a cost-optimized indoor node design, which is what femto cells are, according to Saunders.

Together they will work on this part and others as well, to avoid industry duplication. "Work is already under way, and started in advance of today's announcement," said Saunders.

He is convinced femto cells will play an important part of future mobile networks, both as a way to increase the speed of roll out, and as a way to improve spectrum efficiency.

Next week also sees the one-year anniversary of the Femto Forum. "We started with seven founding members, and today there are 83," said Saunders, who has been the chairman since the start.

The first commercial services are expected launch toward the end of the year, but big volumes will happen next year.

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