Femto Forum adds Morotola, NEC and other heavyweights

Wireless network group dedicated to promoting industry-wide standards for femtocells

Just three months ago, femtocells were being labeled as obscure technology. But the Femto Forum is hoping that some of its new members will make femtocells an everyday word.

The Femto Forum, an industry group dedicated to promoting the adoption of industry-wide standards, announced this week that it has added several big-name players in the mobile communications industry to its roster, including Alcatel-Lucent, NEC, Nokia Siemens Networks and Motorola. The forum, which was originally launched in July, initially consisted of smaller femtocell designers and vendors such as Airvana and picoChip.

"The forum's work is now in full flow, with the major femtocell vendors and component providers actively working with operators to ensure that their products interoperate," says Simon Saunders, the chairman of the Femto Forum.

Femtocells, which are sometimes referred to as "mini-cell towers," are devices that let you use short-range mobile phone frequencies to route wireless calls through your home broadband connection. Because they essentially take mobile phone calls and convert them into VoIP, they have the potential to free up some demand placed on the wireless carriers' networks.

In order to promote the widespread deployment of femtocells, the Femto Forum has created four working groups to craft industry-wide femtocell standards and to forge a common marketing strategy. Among other things, the groups are working on promoting a unified regulatory framework for femtocells, on creating standardized architectures and interfaces that will guarantee network interoperability, and on examining how to avoid potential interference between nearby or outdoor femtocells.

Saunders says he expects 2008 to be a "really busy year" for femtocell deployment, as more Femto Forum members begin going to market with their products. A report by ABI Research expects femtocells to become very popular with consumers, and projects that there will be 150 million femtocell users by 2012. Sprint Nextel has been the most aggressive major American carrier in promoting femtocell use, as the company recently rolled out its Airave devices in several US cities, making the first time a major carrier has sold femtocells in metropolitan markets.

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