Ubiquisys said Wednesday that the U.K. developer of 3G and LTE technologies is poised to introduce the world's first personal femtocell device. Designed primarily for use by individuals traveling abroad, the company's new attocell will enable mobile calls to be placed and received within buildings overseas as though users were still in their home countries.
Many wireless network operators have already launched femtocell services, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon Wireless in the United States as well as Vodafone in Europe. However, the new device to be demonstrated at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona next month is the first to offer international coverage for travelers.
"At Ubiquisys we are constantly developing new ways to harness intelligent cell technology," said CEO Chris Gilbert. "The attocell innovation is a direct response to meet a specific requirement from mobile operators."
Monitoring the Radio Environment
Designed for use in home and small-business environments, a femtocell is a small cellular base station that extends mobile coverage indoors by connecting the user's handset to the service provider's network over a broadband DSL or cable link. The models currently available offer support for mobile phones in a residential setting or up to 16 handsets in small enterprises.
Like standard femtocells, the Ubiquisys attocell will continuously monitor its radio environment to ensure there is zero impact on existing mobile networks. This intelligence, combined with its tiny power output, is likely to make the attocell exempt from regulatory controls and the requirement for type approval, the company said.
The new product is designed to work with any 3G handset, including Apple's iPhone as well as BlackBerry and Android smartphones. The attocell, which connects to the user's laptop via a USB cable, analyzes the IP address and radio environment to determine its location and then sets the device's 3G power level to comply with local licensing requirements.
The coverage zone is expected to range between 5mm or the space of an entire room, depending on country-specific regulatory requirements. To operate the device in the 5mm mode, the user will lay the phone on top of the attocell to enable an automatic connection, at which point calls can be placed or received using the handset's speakerphone or a headset.
Revenue in the femtocell market is expected to rise from $156 million last year to $1.47 billion in 2014, noted iSuppli Senior Director Jagdish Rebello in an e-mail. The research firm's updated forecast also projects that femtocell unit shipments will grow from 1.52 million in 2010 to 34.1 million in 2014, Rebello added.
So far the value proposition for femtocells has been limited to enhancing voice coverage, but value-added services are now in the works that can also be delivered via these devices. ABI Research forecasts that 45 percent of femtocell users will subscribe to so-called femtozone services by 2015 that employ location and presence to trigger innovative applications residing on the mobile device itself, in the access point or core gateway, or in the cloud.
In Japan, for example, the technology already supports a family alert system that registers the presence of members' mobile phones and sends SMS notifications, ABI Research noted. Moreover, developers will be able to create femtozone apps that sync multimedia content between mobile phones and entertainment devices in the home, such as TVs, laptops and media players.