Enterprises in the UK will be soon be offered femtocell base stations to improve cellular access for staff, according to the organisation governing the technology.
Vodafone has already launched an offering called Sure Signal for UK homes, costing an initial £50 for customers paying over £25 a month for their connection.
But operators plan to use early adopters to try out the technology before ramping up production, perhaps with different pricing structures, according to Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum, which represents 120 companies involved in femtocell technology.
Femtocells offer huge advantages to operators because they offload traffic from public cellular stations and costly backhaul links. The systems use the customer's own broadband connection to link with the network, offering better coverage within buildings and at near-optimal data rates.
Some companies at Mobile World Congress are already offering combined Wi-Fi and femtocell access points in the form of home gateways, which is how operators may deploy the technology in the medium term.
The HSPA femto link can also be used, presumably at zero cost, for communication within the home or office.
Enterprises will also get the chance to integrate local cellular traffic into their PBX and network systems, providing high-quality ubiquitous access for staff through a single mobile number. Business models will vary, but companies are likely to be offered special data rates.
Speakers at a Femto Forum briefing stressed that a high proportion of cellular traffic already comes from within the home, so companies may find it worthwhile to install femtocells in the homes of staff.
Femtocells are seen as the only way to meet future demand for data traffic when the limits of radio technology are reached, because they allow for a far higher user density. Network management overcomes the problems of contention between adjacent cells.
There is evidence that the technology is gaining momentum. Informa analyst Julian Bright said that the number of operators committing to femtocells had increased by 50 per cent in the past three months.
And Rupert Baines, marketing director of Cambridge-based Picochip, said that his company had already shipped more femto chips this year than in the whole of 2009.
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