Home opinion-and-analysis Cornered! Femtocells: Optus should be giving them away

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Arguably mobile customers buying femtocells are paying good money to compensate for the shortcomings in the mobile network: and the benefits for the operator go much further.

Femtocells are wonderful things. For operators. The in-building coverage of their network improves without them having to invest in more cell sites and some of that huge and growing data traffic being generated by all those smartphones and tablets gets offloaded from their network onto a fixed broadband network.

This improves services for other users and delays the inevitable investment in capacity upgrades to their networks. And they get to charge customers for the femtocell, up to $240 in Optus' case.

And what do users gain? Nothing except the quality of coverage that, arguably the network should provide. Not to mention more likelihood of gobbling up their monthly broadband data quota - according to Optus the addition of femtocell puts a base load of about 1GB per month on the broadband connection, before the owner even starts to use it in anger.

In short the benefits of femtocells are heavily stacked in favour of mobile network operators. Perhaps operators should be giving them away? Seriously

In mid 2009 the Femto Forum released a research paper which found that the cost savings associated with offloading as little as 1.4GB of HSPA data per month via a femtocell from a coverage-constrained macro cellular network would justify an operator offering a subscriber a free femtocell.

"For a small but rapidly growing segment of heavy wireless data users an operator can easily halve the cost of delivering wireless data at home or in the office by offloading traffic from the macro cellular network onto a femtocell," it concluded.

Around about that time I asked Telstra CTO Hugh Bradlow about Telstra's view on femtocells. He replied that they are deployed to either improve depth or capacity of the main network, neither of which was a problem for Telstra. Given the surge in data volumes, that view may well have changed.

However he added a caveat, saying that femtocells were also emerging as platforms for new applications in the home and as they matured in this direction Telstra would look seriously at them.

CONTINUED

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Stuart Corner

 

Tracking the telecoms industry since 1989, Stuart has been awarded Journalist Of The Year by the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (twice) and by the Service Providers Action Network. In 2010 he received the 'Kester' lifetime achievement award in the Consensus IT Writers Awards and was made a Lifetime Member of the Telecommunications Society of Australia. He was born in the UK, came to Australia in 1980 and has been here ever since.

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