T-Mobile Testing UMA, Femtocell to Roll out Dual-Mode Coverage
TMCnet Executive Editor
Following the successful conclusion of the FCC’s (News - Alert) Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum auction, T-Mobile will soon roll out its Next-Generation Network (NGN)
services that enables customers to operate in dual-mode, switching between cellular and fixed networks such as WiFi, analysts and industry officials said.
While the division of Deutsche Telekom (News - Alert) paid more than $4 billion or nearly twice as much as its closest competitor, it did garner the critical mass necessary to ensure the successful rollout of its future network roadmap. T-Mobile won over 30 MHz in the New York metropolitan region and 20 MHz in
California – two markets that were critical to clearing up its spectrum bottleneck.
“They have no 3G network. It's been a big disadvantage for T-Mobile because they haven't been able to offer businesses 3G data
services apart from WiFi,” explained Phil Solis, senior analyst, ABI Research.
Admittedly, T-Mobile was one of the first operators to harness the power of WiFi. Since the service launch in 2002, T-Mobile HotSpot has become a crucial part of the company’s wireless broadband strategy. But the spotty nature of WiFi service as well as intense competition from the likes of Wayport and AT&T (News - Alert) has lessened its impact. At the same time, competing mobile operators have been deploying advanced cellular technologies like EV-DO and HSPA – a move that T-Mobile was reluctant to make without the adequate spectrum space to ensure smooth service.
“They will almost certainly use this for HSDPA,” Solis told TMCnet.
Enabling the dual-mode interoperability is technology known as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) developed by Kineto Wireless, which is now an accepted part of the 3GPP’s industry standards. Along with T-Mobile, UMA will also serve as the basis for new service offerings from Orange, Telecom Italia (News - Alert) and, most recently, TeliaSonera of Norway, according to Steve Shaw, Kineto’s marketing director.
However, it remains unclear if T-Mobile’s deployment plans will call for the use of new technology known as “Femtocell” or be solely based on dual-mode handsets. For example, ip.access, which recently partnered with picoChip, has developed Femtocell-enabled residential access points to enable fixed-mobile convergence (FMC). Femtocell technology, much like its larger micro- and pico-cell sister technologies, enables more comprehensive coverage at the far edge of the network.
ip.access has an OEM relationship with Siemens (News - Alert) and customer relationships with several carriers, including T-Mobile, according to Rupert Baines, PicoChip spokesman. While the access points (APs) are more expensive than WiFi APs, they are still cheaper than the new UMA-enabled handsets.
“They are the market leader for GSM small cells deploying in high volume for T-Mobile,” Baines told TMCnet in an email exchange.
And because operators often have to subsidize consumers for the products running over their networks, analysts believe there are several benefits motivating operators to adopt Femtocell technology. Mobile operators can lower costs of their transport networks by incorporating Femtocell into the backhaul and the technology also allows the operator to offload some of work performed over the wide-area spectrum down to the customer-level, explained Peter Jarich, analyst at Current Analysis.
But perhaps most importantly, Femtocell technology helps operators address their most relevant metric – churn.
“One of the biggest benefits for any operator for this stuff is going to be stickiness,” Jarich said. “One of the major reasons for people to switch is poor coverage. Why would I switch if Femtocell technology is enhancing coverage? I'm probably not going to switch.”
According to ABI Research, shipments of dual-mode wireless handsets will exceed 300 million worldwide by 2011. Principal analyst Stuart Carlaw believes 102 million Femtocell-enabled units will be deployed into networks by that time.
T-Mobile USA and Deutsche Telekom have repeated declined to comment on media inquiries citing the ongoing FCC restrictions.
Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.
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