Cisco buys into femtocell technology

Calls investment in vendor IP Access femtocell firm exploratory in nature

Cisco announced Wednesday that it has made a strategic investment in IP Access, a femtocell manufacturer that is currently testing its products with mobile network operators around the globe.

IP Access, a mobile technology manufacturer based in the United Kingdom, began testing its Oyster 3G femtocell technology last year with the goal of improving indoor coverage for 3G networks. The Oyster 3G femtocell is designed to support any 3G handset and to deliver indoor wireless signals through broadband DSL or cable connections. According to IP Access, the Oyster 3G "provides a high-speed WCDMA and HSPDA radio interface delivering up to 7.2M bps" and can improve the speed and quality of content delivery to mobile devices.

Cisco spokesman John Noh says that his company's strategic investment in IP Access, which was made for an undisclosed amount, is exploratory in nature and that no one should expect any major femtocell-related product announcements from Cisco anytime soon.

"In general, we commonly make investments in early and mid-stage technologies," he says. "Given that femtocells are in line with our wireless networking business is to engage in a dialogue with IP Access to learn more about their technology and . . . Â the possible applications it has for our products."

For IP Access' part, Noh says that the company will benefit from Cisco's wide industry contacts and its networking expertise. IP Access CEO Stephen Mallinson says that Cisco will provide his company with the "complementary skills and experience to address the needs of operators and consumers."

Femtocells are small cellular access points that route nearby wireless voice traffic through pre-existing broadband connections, thus providing VoIP for wireless handsets that can both improve call quality and save money by letting users make calls without using up their cell minutes. A report by ABI Research expects femtocells to become very popular with consumers, and projects that there will be shipments of about 36 million femtocells in 2012.

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