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Why A Femtocell/Microcell Is of No Value Once Apple iOS Comes Out

Upfront let me state that I've never been a fan of the idea of a Femtocell so I'm sure when I meet up with my drinking buddy in here in London Dean Bubley later today in for a "proper" cocktail or two, we'll have a good talk on the subject.

In the USA AT&T has begun cranking up the PR machine that their Microcell device is now available in more and more markets across the nation. To me, the Femtocell/Microcell is really a way for carriers (especially AT&T) to address the massive coverage gaps they suffer from by using someone else’s broadband connectivity to provide network access to the downtrodden and disconnected masses who live where coverage is thin (i.e. fill in for coverage gaps, holes and overloads caused by the Totem Pole effect) by connecting to the cable modem network of one of the cable MSO's (multiple system operators) or their own Uverse network (as long as that sticks around that is) or even competitor Verizon's FIOS (another endangered flavor of broadband.)

Looking at this realistically, the whole Femtocell/Microcell concept is based upon OPN (other people’s network) a very close analogy of to OPM ( other people’s money) and no, not Om Malik's initials either as it basically means to use someone else assets while you make money.

Here are ten reasons why I don't see the need for an AT&T Microcell:

1. Nokia N and E Series phones with SIP stacks have been around for five years and they allow for incoming calls to a Truphone number of its own over WiFi. No coverage gap for me without a Femtocell.

2. Since the days of GrandCentral (2006) now GoogleVoice has made it possible for that number to ring both my mobile number and my Truphone number on the Nokia N & E series phones via WiFi; heck even PhoneGnome and Gizmo let you do this back then too......so did Vonage, CallVantage, Webley, etc. And that was before Femtocells were on the market.

3. This FindMe/FollowMe technology to fork calls to multiple numbers and networks (regardless of data bearer) has been around since those early days of Truphone and Gizmo and GrandCentral all of which came to life (even before two of the three became clients) dating back to 2006. Back then another acquired client BridgePort Networks, now CounterPath (which is now a client) provided the ability to deliver Voice Call Continuity between Circuit Switched Cellular and IP Networks using WiFi to get to the end point devices. No need for a Femtocell.

4. Today we have an Apple iPod touch running Truphone and have figured out how to route a SIP DID to it as well as a Voxbone iNum number to it. So much for having a coverage gap in my house for mobile calls. Again. No need for a Femtocell.

5. The Nokia N900 and N800 both have SIP stacks and can receive calls from my Truphone account or any SIP provider (OnSip, InPhonex, etc.) Once again no Femtocell needed to receive a call.

6. The new CounterPath Bria iPhone Edition connects to a SIP or Asterisk PBX which means with Find Me/Follow Me I don't care what number is called as Bria will ring over WiFi or the FindMe/FollowMe technology will ring the cell phone. Call it GrandCentral/GoogleVoice for the business set. Once again. No FemtoCell required.

7. Apple is providing multitasking on the iPhone, that means calls coming in background mode still get answered on the apps from Skype, Truphone, CounterPath and anyone else (Gizmo5 via Acrobits?) who will have programmed properly under OS 4.0. Still, no Femtocell needed.

8. Fixed Mobile Convergence technology is available and would eliminate the need for Femtocells as WiFi would be the data bearer.

9. What good will your Femtocell be when LTE or HSDPA+ becomes your carrier's flavor of choice for data, and since Voice is Data .....can it be upgraded? No guarantees, and with AT&T's history of early termination of ideas like CallVantage...well you connect the dots.

10. RIM Blackberry's with UMA inside work very well with operators who support UMA from Kineto over WiFi. Again, no Femtocell needed.

When you read the Broadband Reports posting that describes how AT&T is bungling their whole argument, you realize how their push in the past against things like FMC and Voice over IP, Voice over WiFi and more was really misplaced efforts.

But this quote is, well, priceless in supporting all that is IP to handle the voice traffic and all what makes the need for a Femtocell baseless:

"3G MicroCell is primarily intended to enhance the voice call quality experience in your home," AT&T's Seth Bloom tells us. "While it can carry mobile data traffic, that’s not the primary solution it provides," he says. "Wi-Fi is the optimal solution for home mobile data use. We encourage people to take advantage of Wi-Fi capabilities - that’s why all of our smartphones include Wi-Fi radios, and usage on Wi-Fi doesn’t count against your mobile data usage bucket."

Gee. Doesn't calling over WiFi effectively do that very thing today? And hasn’t it been around for the past few years? And hasn’t it all worked well for so many of us all without a Femtocell. So wait a second. Isn't VoIP data? Yes it is. That means, with a VoIP provider in the middle or a SIP connection to your 3G mobile data network or to your fixed line data network on the WiFi side, and a really good softphone client on the mobile phone AT&T wouldn't need to market a Femtocell at all.

Think about the budget savings and then think of the cost of software vs. hardware. It's a no brainer. And, that same marketing budget spent on trying to convince people that they should purchase a Femtocell could go into driving sales of software through say the iTunes story that will work in ANY WiFi hotspot on the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad...um, another no brainer.

Need more support and more history...T-Mobile and Orange both have had their flavor of Fixed Mobile Convergence, called UMA, working without the need for the Femtocell for a few years now with what was originally called @HOME and Unik. The little known services work to this day on Blackberry device even T-Mo has pretty much killed off the late lamented T-Mobile@Home service which had they continued would have taken Vonage out as the leading VoIP service in the home, as the RIM devices built-in UMA stack and the same technology inside some Nokia's and Samsung phones meant that offered a massive advantage as a coverage hole gap-filler without the need for a Femtocell/Microcell or another phone provider or another number, but for a lot of reasons has been downplayed in favor of 3G data expansion.

Sorry, but with enough ways to receive mobile calls I just don't see the need for a Femtocell. Besides, why should the cable operators like COX, which is entering the mobile phone business, or Cablevision with their WiFi initiative, and a rumored portable voice service coming to market soon, want to carry someone else's voice traffic for free even if some old peering agreements have some language in them that means they have--but that's likely another story- . Maybe you recall that the cable guys were always supposed to be AT&T's best friend with CallVantage until dreams of Uverse came along....that is. And, if AT&T was so serious about Femtocells, why didn't they just make every Uverse router a Microcell and be done with it? Why add in another box that sucks more power and requires one more connection? None of this makes any logical sense.

This is all an even funnier tale when you recall that FMC technology existed and actually worked (but required CAPEX on the part of the carriers) while at the same point in time heavy industry political efforts around IMS were being stirred by the NEPS (network equipment providers.) The Femtocell technology lobby pretty much caused the better idea (FMC) to be pushed into oblivion especially if you connect enough political and financial dots between telecom, technology and spectrum wars.

Then there's the coverage gap argument in cell coverage. That argument too has existed for years, so we all can fail to understand how we can get amazing coverage across Europe and yet in the USA have trouble in downtown San Francisco or New York. In fairness to the operators (yes I can be fair) this is more due to the never ending and ongoing tower rights issues which manifest themselves into the mobile operators’ inability to always secure locations they need for antenna's when saturation occurs, most of which is really due to local politics or when it comes to in building coverage, simply paying money for rights and paying for technology that can help overcome it.

Then there are the AT&T internal battles between wireline, the AT&T Labs and Mobile divisions that have gone on for years, all of which has led SBC raised leadership to pretty much play their hand of backing off on spending initially while make as much operating profit as they could. That approach meant that coverage gaps would continue until the balance sheet looked healthy enough, which was only really made possible due to the explosion for data consumption caused by the iPhone and Apple, and now is the justification/demanding factor for the spending spree that we're about to see from “T”.

Historically, T-Mobile had the perfect product that could have been the best friend for cable company’s best friend in mobile if they had partnered with them vs. a series of tries with in ground network partner Sprint. It was called the @HOME and when combined with T-Mobile’s Hotspot business locations that were inside Starbucks, airport lounges and hotels, it meant that the saturation of coverage was far and wide, but since T-Mobile in the USA was finally able to get the 1700MGHZ spectrum for data that they previously lacked, they cancelled out the Hotspot business for the most part and moved their ATM network over to support their growing AWS 3G service. They did this to drive up mobile revenues from the sale of mobile data plans at higher prices per month than a $20.00 a month WiFi plan-which they still sell. But since T-Mobile Hotspots only remains available in a few remaining customer locations, they have pretty much conceded the mobile operator powered hotspot market in the USA to AT&T. That same AT&T is now pretty much giving away WiFi in those same locations where T-Mobile operated them for pay. The giveaway of WiFi is also trend I'm seeing with more and more mobile operators all around the world, who are bundling it with 3G data plans, especially on the iPad.

So if all the operators are pushing out WiFi with 3G data plans as a way to fill the coverage gaps, why do you need a FemtoCell? You don't. You just need a VoIP client connected to your FindMe/FollowMe service or as an extension to your VoIP service running all the time on your IP connected device. Oh..and that day, comes very, very soon thanks to Apple.

This Gizmodo story adds more fuel to the fire too.

Net. Net. I don’t see the need for Femtocells. Do you?

Comments

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MichaelAScharf

Andy:
It looks like iOS does not play well with others. I recently got my iPhone 4 and loaded the Gizmo5 app. While incoming calls are routed to both Gizmo5 and my AT&T number via GoogleVoice, the iPhone cannot handle it. The call fails no matter which I try to answer (Gizmo or AT&T). Any ideas?

Greg Weidenhammer

I believe there is a use case that you did not highlight that gives favor to a femtocell. If I initiate a mobile call in my home through another means (wifi, sip, etc) and leave the house to run an errand, the call drops.

If I initiate a call through a femtocell, the call in theory continues (assuming there is coverage outside the walls of your house, maybe not a safe assumption, but for many that is the case)

WaltFrench

“Besides, why should the cable operators like COX, which is entering the mobile phone business, or Cablevision … want to carry someone else's voice traffic for free…—but that's likely another story…”

And a big one, too: this seems to be the most important application for net neutrality yet. My government-guaranteed monopoly ISP is going to be able to choose how much I have to pay for phone service, too?

ttrentler

Two solutions I like to reduce Cell costs for the Enterprise in this vain. . .

I really like what Cisco is doing with it's mobility client for the iPhone / iPad. It already let's me use my enterprise phone number over wifi for no additional licensing cost. Once multitasking is added this will be a great app.

I also like the QuestCom Cell phone gateways for enterprise and SMB. Attach the gateway. Plug in a couple SIMs and get enterprise to mobile calling using an unlimited calling plan.

I'm curious to your thoughts on these Andy.


3ginthehome.wordpress.com

Your objection to femtocells is Truphone? Hasn't Truphone been around for much longer than femtocells, without making any real impact on the mobile voice market?

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