I'll try & update this post through the event, although I'm not sure if I'll be here tomorrow & Thursday.
One particularly interesting development has been the instigation of the Femto Forum and I've already heard a lot of discussion around standards.
But... I'm becoming increasingly skeptical of the near-term opportunity, especially in mature broadband markets. Some general areas of concern:
- rapidly-growing installed base of non-femto home gateways & settop boxes. In the real world, most early femtos will need to be "daisy-chained" off the back via an ethernet port, adding to installation and configuration headaches
- lots of unrealistic expectations about "single operator households" supposedly where one provider supposedly offers a whole family a bundle of mobile phones, broadband & maybe IPTV and so forth. Maybe in utopia, or in a country which is a mobile/broadband greenfield, but again in the real world, people have multiple phones, households have members with different requirements, longterm contracts are always out of phase, and so on. How do you manage a house with 2+ femtos?
- No mention thus far about how to optimise a femto offering for prepay subscribers
- By the time femtos are massmarket, 900MHz UMTS will have solved many of the macro coverage problems
- Ideally, handsets will be femto-optimised to enable them to use the indoor coverage "well", ie for data-related applications like content backup, TV watching etc
- Unclear what the working life of a femto is expected to be - and how that fits with the blistering pace of development of the rest of the IP/IT/WiFi/broadband part of the system
- Assumption that the femto voice-stream will get priority on the broadband connection. Who decides QoS prioritisation vs. home access to enterprise VPNs, streamed TV, home security or various other 'important' uses of the pipe?
- For mobile-only operators without their own broadband (or close ISP partnerships), the femto model assumes Net Neutrality, which has the potential to raise accusations of hypocrisy. ISPs will investigate ways to charge 'parasitic' mobile operators who want to use 'their pipes' for free.
None of these are unfixable problems. I still like the underlying concept of femtos. But these problems will take time & keep the new Forum occupied. I haven't done my own forecasts yet, but my gut feel tells me that one of my peer's much-ballyhooed 5-year forecast of 36m units is over-optimistic.