Femtocells or Wi-Fi? That is the Question

Femtocell frenzy is how one paper described the Mobile World Congress Show in Barcelona last week, but at the Portable Computer and Communications Association meeting held Tuesday and Wednesday in Plano, Texas, the solution to the fixed part of fixed-to-mobile convergence seemed to be Wi-Fi.

As Tammy Wheat, director of Ericsson’s enterprise solutions division, noted, Wi-Fi is the solution of choice among enterprise vendors because it gives them the illusion of control and because it’s “free.” Of course, configuring a wireless network that’s robust enough to deliver quality voice over cell phones is expensive, but it is something the corporate IT guys can take care of. By contrast, femtocells are essentially equipment provided by the carrier that rides on the incoming broadband network.

George Fry, director of technology alignment at Nokia, echoed the idea that Wi-Fi would be more acceptable than femotocells in both corporate and consumer households because so much other data is transmitted via Wi-Fi. That makes offering converged services easier. It will also be a key to getting people to switch from the cellular network to a Wi-Fi one. Cost might be a factor, but with free mobile-to-mobile minutes and new unlimited voice plans, Fry thinks other incentives will be necessary.

Given that many of the big chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have failed to get excited about femotocells, it begs the question of how large a market it will be.