Qualcomm Invests in Femtocell Vendor Ip.access

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In separate announcements Wednesday, Qualcomm said it has invested in vendor ip.access, which develops femtocell and picocell products and the Femto Forum announced a partnership with the GSM Association, along with an agreement on how to integrate into mobile networks via broadband.

"This shows there is acceleration in the interest in femto cells, the industry is shaping up. It was embryonic a year ago, but now it has turned into a real concept, and real products are emerging," said Stephen Mallinson, CEO of ip.access. Financial terms of Qualcomm's investment were not disclosed.

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.

The funding deal with Qualcomm will help ip.access roll out products, according to Mallinson.

"Qualcomm has access to people we might find it more difficult to get access to, likewise we can talk about where the femto industry is going, and I think that could be valuable to them," Mallinson said.

Cisco Systems, Intel and Motorola have also invested in ip.access.

Interoperability is key for femto cells to become successful in the mass market and the Femto Forum-related announcements are aimed at that goal.

"Interoperability is our bread and butter, ensuring a full range of services at home. You don't want an error message when you swap to your femto cell ," said David Pringle, spokesman at GSM Association.

It's also important for the technology to work from day one because if consumers don't have a good experience it will affect the image of femto cells, Pringle said.

"There is a balancing act here, between bringing the technology to the market fast, and ensuring it works properly," said Pringle.

The Femto Forum is also adding AT&T, China Telecom, Nortel, SK Telecom, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile to its member roster.

Both ip.access and the GSM Association expect to see their first commercial services launch toward the end of the year, but big volumes will happen next year, according to Mallinson.

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