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Femtocell-Aware Mobile Handsets

  • ID: 616013
  • Report
  • June 2008
  • Region: Global
  • 91 Pages
  • Disruptive Analysis
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The femtocell industry is currently focusing on the short term – getting initial trials in place, developing standards, and securing commitments for early commercial deployment. These are all critical to validate the market, raise the profile of the femto concept, and stimulate finance and investment. A central marketing proposition is that femtocells can work with normal 3G handsets, without needing subscribers to be provided with expensive upgrades to their existing phones.

But while focus is good – and the industry does not want unnecessary distractions – there is a risk of medium-term failure if certain future problems are not addressed early enough, even if this muddies the waters of the short-term marketing message. Already, femto proponents are talking up massmarket business models that go beyond simple indoor coverage and macro-network offload. They are talking about 10’s of millions of subscribers, and new “in-home” services for users, that exploit fast and cheap local mobile connectivity.

It is at that stage that handset innovations become more important. In part, this relates to complexities in managing the radio environment and mobility between femtocell and macrocell networks. Various optimisations are desirable, especially when dense deployments of femtos occurs. These drive changes in areas such as the way the phone “selects” cells on which to register. There may also need to be ways to offer provisioning and “guest access” on femtocells, from the handset UI. But the medium-term hopes of the industry also reflect the notion that people will use their cellphones differently when in range of femtos. There will be different applications and behavioural patterns when people are at home – perhaps content backups, podcasts or even advertiser-sponsored TV programming. The mobile phone may need to linked to TV, PC, HiFi or other items of domestic technology.

This report argues that if the phone will be used differently, it needs to be designed differently as well. Standard phones can work with femtocells, but they are not optimised. Certain applications may only work when the phone is within femto range – but they need to know when that is. Yes, some services can be notified by the core network that the user is “at home”, but that approach doesn’t scale to a wide base of operators, application developers and handset/OS vendors. The phone needs to be “aware” of the femtocell, ideally both in the radio and the application platform.

Changing such elements is not quick. The handset industry is much more complex and slow-moving than many in the wider wireless business understand. It takes often 2-3 years for changes in handset architecture to reach commercially-sold handsets, and another 2-3 years to reach a broad range of devices and reasonable penetration within the user base.

Beliefs that the femtocell industry needs to be much more openminded about the need for modifying and optimising handsets – and to be alert to the huge time and effort it will take to achieve. Other mobile developments like UMA and IMS have suffered in the past from a lack of focus on this issue. Although many femto advocates fear distractions could delay immediate market acceptance, early consideration of these “2nd order” problems is necessary for longer-term success.


- Today’s 3G handsets will work acceptably with femtocells at a basic level.
- Baseline forecast is for 19m femtos to ship in 2013, with an installed base of c30m homes. Some other predictions are much higher.
- Massmarket rollouts of femtocells present future challenges in terms of handset radio protocols, and also application support.
- The mobile network industry generally underestimates the time taken to add capabilities to handsets, and get widespread adoption of the new devices.
- The industry also underestimates the amount of work needed to get new concepts working in the hands of the end user. New protocols often require revised client applications and user interface elements – and rigorous testing.
- It can take 2-3 years from concept to commercialisation for new handset features, and another 2+ years for a wide range of phones to be available.
- In dense deployments of femtocells, handsets can spend too much time & power attempting to connect at locations that are not their own “home zone”.
- There can also be issues where handsets “reselect” the macro network under certain conditions, rather than remaining connected to the femtocell.
- Various scenarios for provisioning femto access could benefit from a client application on the phone – for example, enabling “guest access”.
- The new 3GPP Release 8 specifications contain various modifications to enable handsets to work better with femtos (called Home NodeB’s)
- The first R8-compliant phones will likely be shipped at the end of 2010.
- Various suggestions have been made for “femto-zone” services - but there is no standardised way for handset applications to “know” they are on the femto.
- Although there are various workarounds, with the network notifying the application when the phone is attached to the femto, this approach is not easily scalable to the wider base of developers or operators.
- The best solution is for handset “connection manager” software to explicitly recognise femtocell access as a new and specific type of bearer.
- Handset OS platforms should expose interfaces (APIs) for application developers to determine when the phone is in a femtozone.
- The most likely femto-aware applications are for content backup & sharing, automated downloads, presence, integration with home consumer electronics, VoIP and security/authentication.
- There are opportunities for new types of femto-centric mobile device, intended just for use in the home. An example is a standalone 3G radio.
- Usage of handsets on femtocells may throw up unexpected side-effects, relating to faster / cheaper data connections. This may impact elements of design such as memory allocation and power management.
- Operators could benefit from new revenue streams from advertisers & other third parties by enabling the provision of “at home” services via femtocells.
- Using baseline forecasts, there should be a demand for at least 48m femto-aware handsets to be sold to femtocell owners in 2013.
- However, with more optimistic forecasts, and especially if “shared” femtocell models become popular, there could potentially be a demand for up to 300m femto-aware handsets per year in 2013.

Structure of this report

- Executive summary

- Recommendations: This chapter gives quick and actionable take-outs of the report for various different stakeholders, such as mobile operators, device and femtocell vendors, application developers and consultants.

- Introduction: Provides a succinct overview of the argument for femto-aware handsets.

- Background - the femtocell rationale: Examines the benefits of femtocells, the current and forecast market status for their adoption, and outlines the companies and industry bodies involved in their manufacture and standardisation.

- Handsets & optimisation – an overview: This gives an introduction to handset architecture and the structure of the mobile phone industry, explaining how modifications can be introduced, the timelines involved, and the forecast market size for femto-aware phones.

- Femto-friendly device design & form factors: Looks at the possibilities in modifying the exterior design of handsets for use with femtocells, and the opportunities for future femtocell-only devices.

- Femtos & RF, protocol stack & hardware layer: Examines the issues around handset-network integration, specifically in issues such as cell selection/reselection and the provisioning/administration of femto access from the standpoint of both operator and end user. It also examines other hardware design considerations such as memory and power management.

- Handset OS and “connection manager”: This looks at the critical role of the phone OS in enabling applications to become “femto-aware”. It examines ongoing development of connection management in the key handset
platforms currently in use.

- Femtocell-specific applications & user interface: This examines some of the possible innovative femto-aware applications that could be developed, enabling unique or enhanced user experience when the device is in range of its home cell.
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Methodology, definitions and assumptions
Structure of this report

For femtocell suppliers and network system integrators
For mobile operators
For handset and silicon vendors
For OS providers and application developers
For standards and requirement-setting organisations
For investors and consultants


What are femtocells?
Femtocell market drivers
“Femtocells work with standard handsets”
Market status & timelines
Network architectures
Problems with femtocell models
Advocates, players & leaders
Standards and requirements bodies

What’s in a handset? Basic device architecture guide
Structure of the handset industry
Smartphones vs featurephones
Case study: how have handsets been optimised for WiFi
Why haven’t picocells required special handsets?
Practicalities of developing femto-specific handsets
Time-to-market for femto-aware handsets
Addressable market size
Devil’s advocate: workarounds & normal handsets

Lessons from WiFi, DECT & other wireless technologies
Optimising handset design to work better with the femto itself
Modifying handsets to cope with new femto-based use cases
New form-factors for femto-optimised devices
Handset accessories

The role of handset hardware platforms
Femtocell network architecture – is it relevant?
RF components
Baseband and 3G/4G protocol stacks
A central problem – handset cell selection/reselection
The medium-term future: 3GPP Release 8 & closed subscriber groups
Administering femtocell CSGs – impact on handsets?
Home registration areas
3GPP2 and femtocells
Cell reselection, redirection and handover
WiMAX and femtocells
Interference management
Handset hardware – other issues
Power management & battery
Processor and memory architecture
Display and other input/output components
Test and measurement
Should femto-aware handsets have WiFi as well?

Mobile OS overview
Bearer information layer
Killing the “bearer agnostic” and “seamless mobility” myths
The role of the femto-aware connection manager
Non-IP connections and femtocells
Current work on handset OS connection managers
Symbian OS and Freeway
The Java Community’s extension JSR-307
Windows Mobile
Google’s Android platform
LIMO - LiMo (Linux Mobile) Foundation
Apple iPhone
RIM BlackBerry OS
Third-party PC connection managers
Standardisation efforts
Other issues
Service vs. access
APIs and developer tools
Operator-provided vs. “vanilla” handsets
Can the OS or connection manager be updated on existing phones?
Handset resource management
DLNA / UPnP client

On-device application issues
What is a femto-aware or femto-optimised application?
Femto-aware vs Homezone-aware
Lessons from WiFi handset applications
Telco 2.0 and femto-aware applications
Bearer-aware vs. bearer-managing applications
Alternatives to femto-specific operation
Network-driven femtocell applications
Can femtocells replace WiFi/wireless LAN?
Femtozone icons and UI elements
Updating applications for femto-awareness without replacing the phone?
Major categories of handset client software
Photo / video / content backup
Mobile multimedia – including TV
Local file and content-sharing
Downloads and updates
Core applications: dialler, phonebook, SMS/MMS etc
Security and m-commerce
Advanced presence
IMS framework / Rich communication suite (RCS)
Femto provisioning and management applications
Accessory for consumer electronics products
Environmental applications
Advertising and marketing
Location-specific applications

Intellectual Property Rights / Disclaimer

Figure 1: Forecast femtocell shipments, 2008-2013, baseline/optimistic
Figure 2: Baseline forecast femtocell shipments, 2008-2013
Figure 3: Simplified representation of handset architecture
Figure 4: Example handset software architecture: Access Linux Platform
Figure 5: Example of handset hardware architecture
Figure 6: Femtos risk hype/bust cycle if handset time-to-market ignored
Figure 7: Forecast femto installed base, 2008-2013, baseline/optimistic
Figure 8: Baseline forecast femtocell installed base, 2008-2013
Figure 9: Potential addressable market for femto-aware phones, 2008-13
Figure 10: New WiFi-based devices highlight possible path for femtos
Figure 11: Femto selection / reselection issues with legacy handsets
Figure 12: Handset aware of “home area” limits femto attach attempts
Figure 13: Example 2 - Access Linux OS architecture
Figure 14: Example - Google Android OS architecture
Figure 15: The role of a handset “bearer intelligence layer”
Figure 16: The connection manager paradox
Figure 17: Java JSR307 architecture
Figure 18: LIMO handset architecture
Figure 19: Total operator wVoIP opportunity, VoIPo3G vs VoWLAN
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This report has been written during early and mid-2008, based on interviews and desk research with femtocell specialists, conducted over that period and the preceding 2 years. Disruptive Analysis has covered the picocell and femtocell market since 2001, and has conducted hundreds of briefings and interviews during that time, with operators, vendors, regulators, consultants and other market participants.

The early findings have been discussed with many of the same group, and iterations made to the analysis where appropriate. Given the forward-looking nature of this report, and its advocacy of a future direction for the industry, there have been some dissenting voices. Where appropriate, alternative viewpoints have been highlighted.

The methodology behind the quantitative forecasts in this report are described in more detail in the relevant chapters.
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Note: Product cover images may vary from those shown