Groups Combine Efforts to Push WiMax Femtocells

The WiMax Forum has joined forces with the Femto Forum to speed up the development of femtocells for mobile WiMax networks, the organizations said on Wednesday.

Femtocells are small base stations that can improve indoor wireless 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 femtocell and a fixed broadband connection. Femtocells also provide carriers a chance to offload users from the regular mobile network to save money on backhaul capacity.

They can also open the door for new applications that take advantage of the fact that the femtocell knows when users are present. For example, mobile app developer Intrinsyc Software and femtocell maker Ubiquisys -- which, for now, has decided to focus on 3G femtocells -- recently demonstrated an application for phones based on the Android platform that automatically adjusts the device's user interface when it's in range of a femtocell.

Femtocells for WiMax haven't received as much attention as femtocells for 3G and LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks. But the opportunities and the problems it can solve are the same, according to Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum.

Femto Forum will work on spectrum management to avoid interference between the femtocell and the large network, Saunders said. Other areas they will work on include quality of service and authentication, according to a joint statement.

The market for WiMax femtocells faces several challenges, according to IDC senior research analyst Joao da Silva. The market needs to grow to a size that allows vendors to get advantages of scale. Also, interest in WiMax is big in markets without much DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) penetration, but this service is needed to connect femtocells to the operator network. But there may still be an opportunity in countries like the U.S. and South Korea, where the interest for mobile WiMax is high, he said.

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