Netgear has become the first major manufacturer of networking equipment to incorporate femtocells into its home gateways.
Femtocells are small base stations for home or small offices which re-route mobile phone calls onto a wired telecoms network. Although femtocells can lead to lower mobile phone bills, they are usually employed in situations where indoor cellular coverage is poor.
Many industry observers see the integration of femtocells into home gateways — a type of wireless router, of which BT's Home Hub is the most familiar example — as a way to overcome the capacity limitations of 3G networks. A larger version of the same technology, geared towards big offices, is the picocell.
Ubiquisys is the femtocell vendor that has gone into partnership with Netgear on this venture. The company's chief technology officer and founder, Will Franks, said the routers may be rebranded by mobile operators. "The principle is that mobile operators are looking for two types of solution — one to plug into an existing home gateway, and a combined gateway that combines Wi-Fi, Ethernet, VoIP, etc," said Franks. "One of the real key things here is sensitivity to price point. Consumers are not going to be forking out large amounts of money for a femtocell. It will certainly be subsidised, possibly even given away."
Franks also conceded that integrating the femtocells into gateways, rather than offering them as stand-alone products, would "certainly" help dampen any worries that members of the public might have over housing what could be described as a small mobile phone mast in their living room. He added that femtocells emit far less power than Wi-Fi incorporated into the same gateways.
It seems likely that operators will charge a premium for gateways with integrated femtocells, as that option costs them around £65 per unit, compared to the £45 they would pay for a standard gateway unit. Stand-alone femtocell units, which can be plugged into an existing gateway, cost around £50, although no operator seems to have decided to offer such a product yet.
The Netgear routers will go into production in the fourth quarter of this year.