Friday, April 9, 2010

AT&T Leans on Femto-cells to Support iPhone Coverage

I’ll admit that I get jazzed when I read a news item in the mainstream media that has some Microwave technology playing a leading or supporting role. So I was pleased when I read this story appearing in the New York Times on Wednesday that discussed how AT&T was addressing spotty iPhone service that occurs in locations where there are a shortage of cellphone towers. The solution, “a miniature cell tower in your living room” was described as a mini-tower, the size of a couple of decks of cards that looked like the Wi-Fi hot spots at cafes and could redirect calls from congested cell towers to home Web connections. Hhhmmmm, sounds like a femtocell to me.

The Times reported the story of Christina Zachariades, 28, a Manhattan resident who already pays $130 a month for iPhone service but cannot receive or make calls in her fifth-floor apartment on the Upper East Side. Despite the additional cost to consumers, the technology is poised for big sales, thanks to price drops but also because of the entrance into the market by AT&T. Other companies — Verizon, for example — have already marketed their mini-towers for niche use to customers in places with limited cellphone signals, like basements or homes with particularly thick walls.

The article went on to describe how industry analysts stated that "mini-towers, known as femtocells, are poised for spectacular growth. Shipments should grow from 571,000 this year, to 1.9 million next year, to 40 million by 2013, according to iSuppli, a market research firm. Falling prices are helping propel sales. Two years ago, for example, consumers would have paid $500 or more. "

Cisco, Samsung and Netgear are among the companies that make the towers; Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, which make chips for phones, have also developed products. Francis Sideco, an analyst at iSuppli, said there were still bugs to be worked out before femtocells become a mass-market product like wireless routers or storage devices, which were once hard to market.

Over the long term, basic economics favors mini-towers in homes over big towers, said Pasquale Romano, chief executive of 2Wire Inc., a company in San Jose, Calif., that is developing one of the devices. Ramano claimed that it didn't make sense for carriers to spend money building large towers in residential areas because most people are not home during the day; as it is, AT&T already plans to spend $8 billion this year on improving its wireless coverage, including on big towers, according to public filings.

The price for the AT&T device could fall to $49 if consumers buy a broadband or in-home calling plan, and could be free to customers who buy both. Still, marketing mini-towers has its risks for AT&T. Even though it expects the towers to improve signal quality and take pressure off its network, they could displace landline telephones because wireless consumers will not need a second phone number.

At Microwave Journal, we’ve been following the Pico- and Femto-cell markets for a number of years now with news, articles and application notes from a variety of sources. Earlier this month we reported on the completion of the Femto Forum’s first Femtocell plugfest (Femto Forum Completes First Femtocell Plugfest ). GaAs power amplifier supplier, Anadigics has been targeting this market since 2008 (ANADIGICS Enters Femtocell Market ) and provided us with a white paper that same year

Last May we reported that femtocells, which were virtually non-existent in 2006, and deployed by one operator in 2007, would make up 61 percent of small cellular base station revenue by 2013, according to reports In-Stat.

Highlight's from last year’s In-Stat report included:

  • Femtocells, picocells and microcells are expected to surpass 15 million units by 2013.
  • Worldwide annual femtocell semiconductor revenue will approach $400 M by 2013.
  • Sprint was the first to market with a femtocell-based service in 2007, while others entered the market in 2008.
  • In mid-2009, Airwalk introduced a new enterprise femtocell. These products have the capacity of a traditional picocell and the ease-of-use of a femtocell.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Satellite LTE Network Planned by PE Firm

Harbinger Capital Partners plans to deploy a LTE network over spectrum owned by a few satellite companies which would create an open wholesale wireless network available to anyone who wants to offer mobile broadband. The new network will rely initially on 23 MHz spectrum owned by SkyTerra (which is owned by Harbinger) and could later include spectrum from Terrestar Networks, another satellite firm in which Harbinger holds a stake.

The network could help ensure competition among the major wireless carriers because of the conditions the FCC has placed on the spectrum that the private equity firm plans to use as part an agreement to let Harbinger take control of SkyTerra. SkyTerra would be a wholesaler, and that traffic from the wireless carriers in the U.S. cannot comprise more than 25 percent of the traffic over the SkyTerra/Harbinger network. This means AT&T and Verizon could not buy up huge chunks of the network or spectrum to keep others off of it.

The planned network would launch before the end of 2011 and cover 9 million people (trials initially planned for Denver and Phoenix). Then cover 100 million people by the end of 2012, 145 million by the end of 2013 and at least 260 million people in the United States by the end of 2015. Harbinger said in its statements to the FCC that all major markets will be installed by the end of the second quarter of 2013.

However, the 36,000 base stations that Harbinger plans to use, along with the tower sites, backhaul, etc. with a terrestrial network will require billions of dollars. Verizon and Clearwire have already started building out their networks and are investing billions. It is hard to see how Harbinher could afford to do this. According to SkyTerra, the network will have no less than 23 MHz of spectrum, consisting of 8 MHz of 1.4 GHz terrestrial spectrum, access to 5 MHz of 1.6 GHz terrestrial spectrum and 10 MHz of MSS/ATC L-band spectrum. Through a cooperation agreement with Inmarsat and associated waivers of the Commission’s ATC rules, by 2013 Harbinger will have access to an additional 30 MHz of ATC spectrum.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Wireless Wee Wee

I recently came across Simavita that makes wireless monitoring devices for assisted living residents to monitor when they go to the bathroom and logs the events for analysis to improve their comfort level and coordinate scheduling of changes, etc.

The main component is a remotely monitored disposable continence aid – the SIMpad®. It is fitted with a sensor strip (SIM™strip) that is completely safe for the wearer. A reusable SIM™box fitted to the front of the SIMpad transmits sensor readings wirelessly to a central monitoring station (SIM™server). A key component of the system is the SIMsystem™ Manager, software running on the SIMserver that incorporates an algorithm to analyse the sensor readings and provide an assessment of the continence event in real time; alerting the carer if required.

The SIMsystem Manager automates the process of analysing sensor readings from a sensor strip inside a continence device, capturing observations from carers and presenting the data back to care staff in a manner which simplifies decision making. The SIMsystem consists of:
The SIMbox, when fitted into the individual resident's stretchpants (SIMpants), transmits sensor readings from the SIMstrip in the SIMpad over a wireless network to the SIMserver. The SIMsystem Manager software running on the SIMserver then detects key information about continence events and determines when to alert care staff about an event requiring attention. Alerts are sent via text message to the carer's mobile phone, or via the facility's paging system if preferred. As carers are often unable to immediately respond to events, the software will display a summary log of alerts and manual observations can also be entered. The final bladder chart includes all observations in one easy-to-read report.On completion of the 3-day assessment, the SIMsystem Manager produces shift, daily and 3-day reports that may be used by carers for the development of continence care plans.

The SIMbox and SIMnetwork have been built for ZigBee® for low-power and low-range wireless applications. The SIMbox can operate continuously for at least 100 hours before the batteries need charging. The SIMnetwork platform consists of SIMboxes, SIMchargers, SIM repeaters which can extend the network, and a SIMgateway for connection to the central SIMserver. The SIMboxes are specially designed to be of minimal size and maximum battery life, to be flexible and compatible with a range of clinical applications.The SIMnetwork meets the essential requirements of the Australian1 & European2 standards and therefore is deemed EMC compliant so it is approved for use in healthcare facilities.
What will they think of next for M2M applications!