StarHub plants femtocells in homes

update Singapore telco rolls out 3G femtocell services, offering users the ability to make calls and send messages by connecting their mobiles to its cable network.

update After months of trials, Singapore telco StarHub launched Thursday a commercial femtocell service in the island-state.

StarHub's new "Home Zone" is the world's first commercial 3G femtocell service, the company said in a media statement. Users of 3G mobile phones can connect to a portable cellular access device, to make voice and video calls, or send SMS, over the telco's cable network.

However, the Home Zone service and device is, for now, limited to the first 200 customers.

StarHub began a customer trial in May with 200 users. At that time, StarHub's head of mobile and communications Anil Nihalani said the trial will help determine if femtocell technology was "viable" for use in Singapore.

On Thursday, Nihalani said StarHub sees "tremendous potential" in the Home Zone service. "While services such as voice-over-IP (VoIP) have been available for some years, these are restricted to VoIP-enabled mobile phones.

"The beauty of the 3G femtocell technology is that all 3G-enabled phones are supported and customers do not need to purchase special handsets to take advantage of it," he added.

Femtocells have been lauded by industry players as the catalyst for next-generation networks such as LTE (long term evolution), and a way for cellular operators to save substantially on network infrastructure costs. However, in a September research note, research analyst Ovum advised mobile operators to hold back femtocell deployment, citing the lack of standardization as the main technical stumbling block for the technology.

Foong King Yew, Gartner's research director for telecommunications, told ZDNet Asia Friday in an e-mail interview that the launch is not expected to have any significant impact due to the small initial customer base. Femtocell technology, however, is a promising technology over the longer term, he noted.

"At present, Gartner assesses femtocells to be at the 'peak of inflated expectations' and it will take another two to five years for it to mature and result in productive use," said Foong.

As part of the service, the telco is offering free SMS as well as local outgoing voice and video calls. MMS (multimedia message service), IDD calls, mobile downloads, mobile surfing and other GPRS activities conducted over the mobile device will be charged at regular rates.

To sweeten the deal, the carrier is also offering 50 percent discount on the S$30 (US$19.82) monthly service subscription for 12 months, for customers who sign up by Dec. 31.


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