NTT DoCoMo to launch world's first dual 3G/LTE femtocells

Japan's largest carrier said it will begin using the new femtocells commercially from December to expand its network indoors

NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile provider, said Friday it will soon launch the world's first femtocells to support both 3G and LTE networks.

The company said it will begin using the new femtocells commercially from next month on its Japanese network. Femtocells are small cell transmitters that are commonly used indoors, to provide network coverage over enclosed spaces where signal reception is weak.

"We plan to provide these to our network customers for now," said company spokesman Eijun Tanaka. "We haven't decided about outside sales yet."

DoCoMo said its new femtocells can provide coverage at a scale of tens of meters, depending on where and how they are deployed. The units are about the size of a household router, 18.5 centimeters by 17.5cm wide by 4.5cm, and weigh 700 grams.

Like most femtocells, they need only be connected to a broadband fixed line to begin offering service. They can provide voice and data services on DoCoMo's "Xi" LTE and "FOMA" 3G networks. The company uses the W-CDMA standard for 3G services.

Providing access to both services is also important because of monthly data restrictions DoCoMo places on its LTE network. Users that exceed their data quota can either purchase extra capacity or use the company's slower network for the rest of the month.

All three of Japan's major operators have now launched their respective LTE services, and a price war is under way in the country as the companies try to convince users to switch networks. DoCoMo said it passed 6 million LTE users in September, and recently launched a campaign that provides the service at no basic charge for two years to customers that have been with the carrier for at least 10 years.

Another major selling point is network coverage. DoCoMo launched first in 2010, giving it an advantage over rivals who are rushing to catch up. Softbank, which recently agreed to purchase U.S. carrier Sprint, announced a separate deal in October to acquire smaller Japanese carrier eAccess and quickly expand its coverage.

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