Femto Forum looks to standardize femtocell architecture

Industry group says it wants members to merge different femtocell model approaches.

In an effort to slim down a crowded femtocell architecture field, the Femto Forum this week announced a program to unite different device models.

Femto Forum chairman Simon Saunders says there are 15 femtocell architectures that have been proposed to the Femto Forum, which is an industry group dedicated to promoting the adoption of industry-wide standards. Under the Forum's new program, members will look at ways to harmonize and integrate the different model approaches with one another with the hope of making femtocell architecture more standardized. Saunders says he doesn't expect the program to yield one unifying architecture that will become an industry standard, but he did note that "right now there are too many architectures on the table and we're really working to move ahead of that."

The Femto Forum says it will begin cobbling together proposals for merged femtocell architectures at its next plenary meeting this March.

"If operators want to create a multivendor environment to suit different customers' needs, they'll have a real challenge on their hands" with 15 different architectures, he says. "The operators in the forum sent us a message that we really do need to see these solutions start to converge and standardized to as great a degree as possible."

Analysts have said that one of the big roadblocks that could delay widespread femtocell deployment is the fact that no one has yet developed a single architecture that the industry can use as its standard, and that several models have been designed based on Session Initiation Protocol, UMA and other mobile architectures. 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.

The Femto Forum also announced this week that it had added some new big-name players in the mobile communications industry to its roster, including British Telecom, Samsung, Vodafone and Cisco, which last week announced that it had made a strategic investment in femtocell manufacturer IP Access.

According to Saunders, the Forum has 58 members, including established industry heavyweights such as Alcatel-Lucent, NEC, Nokia, Siemens and Motorola. The forum, which was originally launched in July, initially consisted of smaller femtocell designers and vendors such as Airvana and picoChip.

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