T-Mobile pushes femtocells

The company will begin UK trials of the tech in the second quarter of this year, potentially making a limited deployment before 2009

Mobile operator T-Mobile is to begin trials of femtocell technology in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK in the second quarter of this year. It may also push out a limited deployment of the technology before the year's end.

The chief technology officer of T-Mobile UK, Emin Gurdenli, told ZDNet.co.uk sister site silicon.com the technology has "a lot of potential".

"If it actually does succeed and deliver on the promise, then it will be a breakthrough," Gurdenli said.

Femtocells are small, cellular base stations that make use of DSL to boost signal coverage indoors. Analysts have talked up their potential as a way of ramping up 3G network coverage without the crippling costs associated with doubling or tripling network base stations.

Despite making mention of a possible femtocell deployment this year, Gurdenli warned it is still early days. "We have to have completed the development of the concept — not just the technology — including the business models and so on," Gurdenli said. "A proper food chain has to be established before this thing rolls out in large numbers, but I'm… optimistic."

T-Mobile's recent network-sharing agreement with 3 is also aimed at improving the quality and coverage of high-bandwidth networks, while also reducing costs.

When transition of the two networks is completed in two years' time, Gurdenli said coverage will stand at 97 percent and will be "literally like having the 3G network footprint the same as 2G".

When it comes to femtocells, "standardisation and automation" will be key, according to Gurdenli, who added that proprietary hardware is just "not viable". The technology must also be "plug and play", he said. "It's got to be safe in the hands of the customers; it's got to be like a handset."

Gurdenli added: "It's very exciting, it's very interesting, but it's a little bit early days. I think there's a lot of promise. We'll see how that develops."

Looking beyond 3G, Gurdenli envisages there will be room for more than one technology, rather than it being a case of LTE (long-term evolution)/4G crushing the hopes of WiMax.

Gurdenli said: "I don't believe in monopolistic approaches in life. We have to acknowledge that, especially in the future, particularly with the UK's approach to spectrum regulation, we should expect more technologies to emerge delivering similar services."