Picochip today said it has released a chip that will enable mobile operators to place small base stations known as femtocells anywhere, bringing them out of the home environment and into public areas. This is good for carriers, but it may be bad news for consumers.
Sprint has begun offering femtocells on a case-by-case basis to users who complain about in-home coverage problems. With market expectations huge, that’s a long-overdue move that will further boost carrier revenues and should be mirrored by Sprint’s competitors.
Deployments of femtocells have doubled in the last six months, indicating that an increasing number of carriers want to supplement wireless coverage in homes using the 3G devices. Evan as some carriers charge for the hardware, consumers appear willing to pay for better home voice coverage.
When AT&T eliminated unlimited smartphone data plans earlier this month, much of the outrage was from iPhone owners, traditionally the biggest users of AT&T’s data network. But the biggest losers are femtocell customers because 3G data use with these devices counts against the now-limited plans.
picoChip, maker of semiconductors for femtocells, has raised $20 million in funding, bringing its total venture capital raised to $110 million. I wrote earlier this month that PicoChip’s latest silicon could finally create an opportunity for femtocells to gain real adoption. Its investors must agree.
Picochip has built a chip that can support far more mobile users on a femtocell, and help carriers handle the problem of chatty phones that overwhelm networks with movement notifications, push email, Twitter, etc. Maybe it will be just what femtocells need to finally take off.
Here at GigaOM we’ve pretty much decided that the femtocell market is dead. At the very least, it’s significantly smaller than what was forecast (GigaOM Pro, subscription required) when these tiny base stations for the home first started garnering attention last year. However, analysts at Deutsche Bank beg to differ, arguing in a new report that femtocells will be necessary to deliver fat data over mobile broadband networks. It comes just days after Atlas Ventures, Highland Capital Partners and Pond Venture Partners put $20 million into PicoChip, a maker of femtocell silicon. Read More about Analyst: Femtocells Aren’t Dead Yet!
Femtocells, micro-base stations placed inside the home to improve cellular coverage, are supposed to be the answer to operators’ bandwidth constraints. They’re also a new source of revenue for carriers and the startups and large equipment-makers who are building the devices. But so far, the market has failed to materialize, not least because consumers don’t want to pay a monthly fee or buy equipment in order to help carriers improve their networks. But as Wi-Fi gets embedded on phones and hotspots proliferate, are femtocells even necessary? Read More about Who Needs Femtocells If We Have Wi-Fi?
Add AT&T (s t) to the list of operators looking to create a new revenue stream even as they move to offload network traffic. The nation’s second-largest carrier has launched a consumer trial of its 3G MicroCell, a femtocell that uses the customer’s home Internet connection to connect to AT&T’s network for both voice and data usage. The device — which is available only in Charlotte, N.C., following AT&T employee trials earlier this year — is being offered for $150, with a $100 rebate for users who sign up for a $20 monthly 3G MicroCell plan, which enables unlimited calling for those within range of the gadget. Read More about AT&T Jumps on the Femtocell Bandwagon
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your mouse trap is if it doesn’t catch any mice. Same goes for technologies. Witness femtocells, those small, in-premise devices that help with spotty cell phone coverage by piggybacking on wired broadband connections.
According to The Wall Street Journal, femtocells aren’t doing terribly well — sales are slow and demand is weak. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation. Carriers are waiting for demand to go up, while folks (like me) are waiting for prices — which currently range from $100 to $250 for the device alone, plus a monthly service fee — to come down.
And that doesn’t seem to be happening. Read More about Like Fixed-Mobile Convergence, Femtocells Are on a Road to Nowhere