AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A new technology to boost the indoor coverage of mobile phone networks — and a possible rival to combined fixed-mobile-offerings such as BT’s Fusion — is set to hit the mass market in less than a year, a manufacturer said.
Several companies are developing so-called femtocells, small indoor base stations for third-generation mobile phone networks, allowing operators to improve indoor coverage at a substantially lower cost than the traditional way of adding more cell towers.
The devices are plugged into a customer’s broadband Internet connection, just like a wireless Internet base station, and allow users to make calls or use data services with their regular mobile phones, said Andy Tiller, Vice President Marketing of UK-based femtocell manufacturer ip.access.
Mobile phone operators can thus serve indoor users at a low cost, and calls made through the femtocell could be priced more cheaply to encourage consumers to use their mobile phone instead of their fixed line, he said.
“It can encourage fixed-mobile substitution,” Tiller said at the sidelines of a fixed-mobile convergence conference in Amsterdam.
However, phone operators must find compelling reasons for consumers to use such a device, which will cost the operator more than 150 euros ($200) initially, Tiller said.
The advantage for consumers would be similar to that offered by BT Group’s (BT.L) Fusion offer or Orange’s FTE.PA Unique — one phone that can be used both to make calls over the fixed line at home at cheap rates as well as over the mobile phone network when away from home.
The difference from the Fusion or Unique offers is that femtocells need no special handsets.
Femtocells offer a way for mobile phone operators to compete with such offers, said Mark Newman, Chief Research Officer of Informa Telecoms and Media.
“It seems to me that femtocells are a great tool for mobile operators to combat the threat of cellular wifi,” Newman said.
Tiller said femtocells were now ready for laboratory trials, with consumer trials likely in the fourth quarter. They could hit the mass market by March 2008, he said.