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Friday, August 17, 2007

Femtocell business model.... free HSDPA hotspots?

I've just come back from a few days at the Edinburgh Festival. One of the things that I noticed was the sheer amount of free WiFi available, especially at the festival venues themselves, but also at a huge number of cafes, pubs & other places. Many such locations had 5+ laptop users at any time. There are far fewer major chains of cafes with commercial hotspots than there are in London.

It's just struck me that maybe a possible business model for femtocell operators could be to supply femtos to similar venue owners, to enable wider use of data connectivity for their visitors, especially if the operator is also providing the broadband connection. It ought to be possible to charge a somewhat higher price to businesses like cafes than is reasonable for average consumers at home.

That said, there would be a number of challenges - principally whether it would be possible to create an operator-neutral femto (perhaps one that didn't need SIM authentication, or one that could work with multiple operators' SIMs?).

Another way could be to have some sort of multi-femto rack or chassis, with different operator's femtos as 'blades' or modules. This type of architecture could also be used for the 80%+ of households that won't be single-operator families.

There would also need to be some sort of mechanism for policy control - perhaps in terms of volume caps, or bandwidth throttling, or maximum number of current users.

Hmmmm.... now I think through the details, it's kinda tricky. But if femtos are going to have a chance to compete vs. Wifi for casual users (especially with laptops), there will need to be some way of giving hassle-free & cost-free visitor access in specific locations.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dean!

Interesting idea in it self, but if free HSDPA hotspots are offered, it's going to be a customer service nightmare. The actuall billing is not going to be a problem, but explaining to subscibers why they were charged 7,50 euros per megabyte in a free HSDPA hotspot since thay accidentally roamed is.

Anyways, why bother with HSDPA when setting up a WLAN hotspot is so much easier and cheaper? Newer cellphones already support WLAN.

On the other hand if you can show me the money, I'll be your TV evangelist for the cause :)

- Zed

Anonymous said...


Some good points.

Your idea of multi-operator basestatations already exist of course: it is called "roaming" :)

So, nothing too hard.

Or rather it *is* hard but the technical issues are all thoroughly solved (for, ooh, about ten years now.

The question is -as ever!- the commercials.

Will carriers want this, who will pay, etc.

There is one amusing illustration: T-mobile in USA has a deal with Starbucks using ipAccess picocells - not to offer free calls (although in US buckets mean most calls are sort of free), but on the logic that Stabucks shiops are in places with lotrs of people.

Secondly, your "multi-standard" system -- this is very similar to RadioFrame's current product: WiFi, iDEN, cdma2000, GSM are all blades that fit into a simple rack.

Collet Kudze said...

Femtocells!!Great innovation.Disruptive and a potential headache for the no flexible business models which prevail for many operators.

An open Femtocell which can accommodate many SIMS will be potentially an off the shelf product and nobody has to know who has plugged it where. However it brings headaches to the operator who would like to control traffic distribution for capacity management.

Yes as always... its the business model which is the crunch.