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RadioFrame has been working on femtocells for eight years, but haven’t sold a one yet: The technology of a femtocell, a pint-sized cellular network transceiver that plugs into home broadband, would allow a cell carrier to extend its network using its licensed frequencies into a home or office. Office buildings and airports already use microcells—also manufactured by RadioFrame—to ensure good signal coverage indoors. Bringing femtocells into homes would allow good reception and incremental revenue for carriers.
Femtocells face competition from unlicensed mobile access (UMA), which appears to have a headstart, despite the fact that UMA requires new handsets that mix cell and Wi-Fi (or sometimes Bluetooth) in a single phone. Femtocell-based calling wouldn’t require that a user change their handset at all. However, RadioFrame says it needs to get costs down to $150 for a femtocell to make it cost effective.
UMA has gotten a leg up through BT’s Fusion deloyment in the UK, although the early numbers there aren’t promising yet, but that might have something to do with only first-generation UMA handsets being available. T-Mobile will reportedly roll out UMA from its Washington State-only offering now to the whole US next month. The Wi-Fi Alliance is pushing UMA because they have a couple different standards that improve voice quality and battery life that they’ve been working closely with converged handset makers to adopt, as well as consumer and corporate Wi-Fi gateway manufacturers.
RadioFrame most likely is sitting on a pile of patents, too, which might be part of their long-term strategy: if femtocells take off, they can net licensing dollars as well as direct sales of their own equipment.
Posted by Glennf at May 21, 2007 5:10 PM