Our recent assessment of the prospects for 3G femtocells drew an amused comment from one of the industry players.
Our article went through some of the reasons why femtocells - indoor base stations that increase 3G coverage in the home or office - aren't here yet. The main reason, of course, is that operators are cautious and these things take time.
But a lot of the issues are already solved, according to Steve Shaw of convergence software vendor Kineto. The only thing is, they are solved by dual-mode handsets that use Wi-Fi.
Femtocells might make coverage holes in 3G macro networks because they are on the same frequencies. They also have to cost less than $100 before anyone will ship them. Wi-Fi is on a different frequency, and already costs less than $50. The battery life issue that dogged Wi-Fi at first has been solved pretty much.
Now, I'm not surprised to see Steve putting this line - Kineto sells software to all parties in the convergence market ("We’re an arms dealer, and this femto vs dual-mode-handset war is simply fueling operators to invest" he quips). Kineto sells software for UMA dual-mode services, like the BT Fusion disaster, and the possibly more successful but not yet launched here Unik from Orange.
What surprised me was finding I agreed with a lot of what he says. When you first hear of femtos, they sound great. They're not "awkward" like running voice over your home Wi-Fi, and they work with all 3G phones. But then you realise that there are likely to be awkwardnesses further up the chain, between the femto and the macro cell, and the seamless handover (if it can be achieved) is at the cost of having a handset that is not aware of the femto and can't take full advantage of it.
While I'm absorbing this, another friend, Dean Bubley asks the question, Why not run HSPA in unlicensed spectrum?
Why indeed not? 2.4GHz is unlicensed, so you could run any appropriate technology there. You'd have to have special handsets that did 3G in the 2.4GHz band.
But it struck me, if that did happen - femtos would have become very, very much like Wi-Fi.