Ubiquisys and FON are working on a femtocell that will let mobile users share a broadband connection, they said on Tuesday.
FON now lets PC users share their fixed-line broadband connection using a Wi-Fi router equipped with the company's software. The software lets users set up a hotspot for other members of the FON community, while keeping access closed to other people. Users who set up one of these hotspots can use all the other hotspots in the network for free. FON users who don't want to share their broadband connection can pay to get access to FON hotspots that other users have set up.
Today, the FON network has more than half a million Wi-Fi hotspots, 1.5 million registered members and deals with a number of operators, including British Telecom, SFR France and E-Plus Germany, according to a statement.
The new product, which will be manufactured by Ubiquisys, is being designed to bring the FON system to HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) mobile broadband connections.
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 to a fixed broadband connection.
Femtocells also provide carriers a chance to offload users from the regular mobile network to save money on backhaul capacity. The advantages would be the same with the new product, but potentially on a larger scale, according to Keith Day, vice president of marketing at Ubiquisys.
Currently, most femtocells are configured in a so-called closed mode. This means that only the numbers provided by the subscriber to the operator are able to connect to the femtocell.
The femtocells could be opened up, but the access is then opened up to all mobile broadband users, which users likely won't agree to, according to Day. But sharing access within a community, which requires users to sign up and offers security, already works for existing FON users, he said.
Success hinges on wide deployment of femtocells, and getting mobile operators on board.
"This concept relies on the more general rollout of femtocells in the field ... but we are beginning to see wider-scale femtocell launches and there are a few more which are about to happen and providing that those are well received I think there is very little holding it back," said Day.
Better scalability and more capacity in Ubiquisys' next-generation femtocell will make this a more credible option. The number of simultaneous users that can be handled by the product will be expanded to up to 16, and the speed will increase to 21.6M bps (bits per second), Day said.
The joint product is still very much under development, since work started early in 2009. It will most likely end up combining support for both mobile broadband and Wi-Fi access, so the existing model of sharing a broadband connection using Wi-Fi will still work.
Pricing and a launch date has yet to be set, Day said.