In this blog, in July of 07, I have talked about the possibility of creating a FemtoFonera. This week I met with Chris Gilbert, the very able CEO of Ubiquisys in order to study this idea.

A Femtocell is a router slightly larger than the Fonera that transforms a cable or ADSL home line signal into a 3G signal. But unlike Wi-Fi, 3G signals are private, so only the operators can authorize Femtocells. They have been designed with the exclusive purpose of giving better indoor mobile coverage for their owner. So currently Femto are the opposite of Fon which is designed to give coverage both to the owner and into the streets. But while Femto seems to be limited in order to protect telcos, it is interesting that Fon has been able to team up with many telcos including BT, SFR, Zon and others to build WiFi networks geared outdoors. Why? Because nowadays big telcos are competing with each other, not only in the marketplace trying to lower customer acqusition costs and churn. Behind the market wars there are the capex wars, and Fon helps 3G operators to unload 3G traffic through WiFi thereby reducing hugely expensive 3G capex.

Now Ubiquisys has another interesting way to unload 3G traffic and that is to create micro cells that cost 100 euros vs 300,000 to the tower and to ask customers to use their own DSL/Cable/Fiber connections to send the traffic that normally goes through these towers. So think of the combination, think of a Femtofonera a Fonera that creates both a WiFi and a 3G network out of the Femtofonero home and gives the Fonero free WiFi and 3G roaming in exchange for helping build the network. Now that is a powerful concept, especially for the 2% of the population who could be Femtofoneros.

In this post I am interested in your opinion so here are two surveys.

The polls are in Spanish because they are a continuation of a Spanish blog post. The first poll deals with a 100 euro FemtoFonera that ONLY improves your coverage at home but does not give you free 3G roaming. No la compraria means I would not buy it. Si la compraría means I would buy it because not only it´s like a Fonera 2.0 but also I get good 3G coverage at home.

The second survey is about whether you would buy for 200 euros, a FemtoFonera that, aside from giving you better coverage in your house and having all of the functions of a Fonera 2.0, gives 3G coverage to others, and therefore gives you free roaming – meaning free 3G access in your entire country – in exchange for you installing one. Again, no la compraría ( I would not buy it) vs la compraría (I would buy it).

Here´s a video showing the concept and a Femto from Ubiquisys.

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steven on May 24, 2009  · 


* what is the range of this 3G femtocell?
* can you “call” eachother for free using the 3G network? (Push2Talk?) when you connect 2 3G phones to this device?
* When connected to this 3G femtocell your phone can not receive any normal calls/sms anymore?
* can this femtocell connect to your fixed phone network as well for voice termination or does it only share “internet”…

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Martin Varsavsky on May 25, 2009  · 

some of the questions you asked are answered in the current specs of the product range, others will have to be decided if we ever work together creating a FemtoFonera

range would be something like 500m

cristian on May 25, 2009  · 

NOPE!…i wouldn´t buy it.

just because the La Fonera REALLY WORKS BAD!.

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Anirvan on May 27, 2009  · 

Martin, I suspect the support for the 2nd option is overstated, because of the way it is worded.

To clarify my own vote – I voted yes – and speaking purely as a consumer for the moment, I would pay the €200 for a service that replaced my existing mobile phone service. To do that, the service would need to offer the the following:

1) Work off any 3G phone (i.e. no limitation of handset)
2) Work just the same on core telephony services – i.e. no user experience distortion of voice or SMS
3) Transparently fall back on 3rd party networks where the Fon network is out of range

From a commercial viewpoint, if you offered the above terms, you would be swamped by the roaming charges unless you could very rapidly ramp up the geopgrahic coverage of your femtofonera network. However, a rapid ramp up looks unlikely unless you give away the boxes for free (which would belie the €200 price point in your survey) – so either way, looks like you will have to choose between a massive OPEX or a CAPEX subsidy to get your proposition off the ground. While you no doubt have investors with deep pockets to fund this with, I think you will need a very long runway, even as you burn cash at a very high rate

My two cents…
(although full disclosure: I work for an MNO, so have a professional conflict of interest with the proposition you are describing here)

– @Anir1

3.0 rating

steven on May 27, 2009  · 

I don’t think this femtocell has a bigger range than eg a fonera…so it would hardly be useable unless you invite every fonera @home 🙂
The skype wifi phone wasn’t a big hit as well…

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