Femtocells are expected to rise substantially over the coming years as a growing number of operators start deploying the devices to increase capacity and coverage in their networks, industry organization Femto Forum said Tuesday. At a briefing at the ongoing World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, the non-profit organization's chairman Simon Saunders said increased mobile spectrum and new efficient network standards like Long Term Evolution will not in themselves be enough to meet the explosion in mobile data generated by smartphones and laptops. Femtocells, essentially minimal base stations about the size of a small shoe box which cover an area of some 10,000 square feet, will increasingly be deployed in homes, offices and busy city environments to help offload the networks, Saunders said.
According to projections from analysis firm Informa, some 49 million femto cells will be deployed by 2014, he added. A few big operators including Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) and AT&T Inc (T) have recently started deploying femtocells, according to Sanjeev Verma, founder of U.S.-based femtocell maker Airvana Inc. (AIRV). There are a few hundred thousand femtocells in use worldwide, he said in an interview Tuesday, but added that the number should rise sharply as Vodafone and others soon start advertising the devices.
Operators are interested in femtocells because they improve coverage in indoors environments and boost network capacity, said Verma. He said they also allow some applications for home environments, like synchronizing electronic devices over the network. A typical femtocell costs around $100-$200, Verma said, but added that operators will probably offer them to consumers at a subsidized price, much like they currently do with mobile phones.
In a separate keynote speech Tuesday, Guo Ping, Chief Science Officer at Chinese network equipment vendor Huawei Technologies Co, said limited bandwidth is an important challenge for the telecom industry. Telecom firms can meet capacity demands by rolling out faster technology standards like Long Term Evolution, gaining access to more spectrum, and building solutions for increased coverage in hot spots, he said.