StarHub “Home Zone” Fem-to-Cell Implementation
StarHub launches ‘Home Zone’, the world’s first commercially-available 3G femtocell service. 3G femtocell is a portable cellular access device that connects a user’s 3G mobile phone directly to a MaxOnline-enabled router in the home so that users can make voice and video calls and send SMS over StarHub’s cable network from their mobile phones.
StarHub is making all local outgoing voice, video calls and SMS free for customers using the ‘Home Zone’ service, ensuring that users, who make frequent mobile calls and SMS from home, can enjoy significant cost-savings on their mobile phone bills.
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
The implementations of femtocells provide significant benefits that help operators considering the investment. The most common benefits result in:
- Off-loading macro radio network facilities
- Improving coverage locally in a cost-effective manner
- Implementing home-zone services to increase revenue
In telecommunications, a femtocell—originally known as an Access Point Base Station—is a small cellular base station, typically designed for use in residential or small business environments. It connects to the service provider’s network via broadband (such as DSL or cable); current designs typically support 2 to 5 mobile phones in a residential setting. A femtocell allows service providers to extend service coverage indoors, especially where access would otherwise be limited or unavailable.
Since femtocells will operate in the residential space and users may move between an indoor and outdoor environment, a handover mechanism between the macro network and the femtocell is required. The capacity of such cells must be adequate to address a typical family use model supporting two to four simultaneous voice calls. Femtocells also must handle data. Typically, broadband technologies supply more throughput as compared to current or evolving 2G/3G standards, i.e., EDGE or HSPA resulting in no network bottlenecks. For 2G femtocells, mobile broadband data, such as that from a PC/laptop, can be handled from a widely deployed WLAN interface. Femtocells allow operators to offer innovative pricing plans to consumers at reduced or flat rates competitive with fixed line plans.
For a mobile operator, the attractions of a femtocell are improvements to both coverage and capacity, especially indoors. There may also be opportunity for new services and reduced cost. The cellular operator also benefits from the improved capacity and coverage but also can reduce both capital expenditure and operating expense.
Femtocells are an alternative way to deliver the benefits of Fixed Mobile Convergence. The distinction is that most FMC architectures require a new (dual-mode) handset which works with existing home/enterprise Wi-Fi access points, while a femtocell-based deployment will work with existing handsets but requires installation of a new access point.
A number of companies were independently investigating femtocells (although mostly using other terms such as "residential base station" or "3G access point").
By early 2007, the idea had become mainstream, with a number of major companies publicly demonstrating systems at the cellular industry 3GSM conference in February, and operators announcing trials.
Sample Business Model (courtesy of CableFax)
A successful business model considers revenue impact, cost savings and cost-related aspects of a femtocell rollout. (See Figure) In this case, take a look at a deployment over a five-year operational period. During this time, the price points drop, and upgrade enticements such as handset subsidies become available to increase subscription rates and spur mass consumer adoption.