Japanese operator SoftBank Mobile will use femtocells in so-called open access mode, in a move to allow all subscribers to make phone calls and surf via the device, improving coverage and offloading traffic from the operator's network.
Femtocells are wireless small base stations that send calls and data traffic via a fixed broadband connection. Today, they are mostly used in homes and access is limited to users on a whitelist. That Softbank has decided to use femtocells in open-access mode shows the technology is ready to be used in that way, as well, according to Keith Day, vice president of marketing at Ubiquisys, SoftBank's supplier of femtocells.
In open-access mode, femtocells can be used not only in homes, but also in shops, cafes and other public areas, according to Day. Today, picocells -- smaller than regular base stations, but bigger than femtocells -- could also be used to improve coverage in these areas, but using femtocells is cheaper and they are easier to install, Day said.
Ubiquisys' G3-mini femtocell can handle up eight calls at the same time. If it becomes overloaded it can either hand over calls to another femtocell or to the operator's macro network, according to Day. If neither is possible, the call won't be completed, he said.
One possible issue with femtocells in open-access mode is that the owner would have to share their broadband connection with others. SoftBank has placated users by bundling a free femtocell with a free ADSL connection, according to Ubiquisys. To what extent other operators will follow in SoftBank's footsteps remains to be seen, Day doesn't want to make any predictions.
In general, the number of commercial femtocell deployments has slowly started to pick up. Today, services are offered by AT&T, China Unicom, CSL, Network Norway, Optimus, SFR, Sprint, StarHub, Verizon and Vodafone. However, the majority of 3G operators are expected to wait with their launches until late 2010 or 2011, according to market research company, according to market research company Infonetics Research.
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