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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Airvana touting Femto-aware devices

Just saw an interesting presentation from Airvana, which was talking about "hybrid networks", whereby both devices and macro networks are "aware" of femtocells and collaborate to maximise capacity and minimise interference.

It's the first public conference presentation I've seen (apart from my own) which has used the term "Femto-Aware Handset". The speaker was suggesting that these should become important after 2010.

However, while I'm impressed with Airvana's forethought about devices, I was conscious that the debate around femto-aware "phones" may get mired in discussions about interference management and 3GPP R8 tweaks to the interfaces involved.

But following on from my last post, I'm now convinced that the majority of data traffic on femtos will come from devices which also have WiFi. 3G dongles, iPhones, top-end smartphones, MIDs and so on.

Although the Airvana representative thought the balance would shift to non-WiFi devices, I disagree. While I don't think that more than a small fraction (maybe 10-20%) of mobile devices will have WiFi in them, I expect those to be the devices that will generate vastly disproportionate amounts of traffic - almost certainly above 80% of total 3G usage, and in many cases 90%+.

This will mean that simple changes to the handset chipset and protocol stack will not be enough. There will need to be higher-level software adaptations to manage "policy" - when to use femtos, when to use WiFi, when to use macro networks and so on. This will need to reside in the handset OS, probably in the Connection Manager. Some applications (eg operator, QoS-managed services) will work best on the femto, while others (eg straight-to-Internet vanilla access) will work better on WiFi. Both sorts might need to be run simultaneously on the same device.

This sort of issue needs to be considered now. I cover it in depth in my new report, and it's also something I've been discussing with advisory clients of mine. Please contact me on firstname.lastname AT disruptive-analysis.com if this area is of interest.

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