The main objective behind a femtocell is to provide high quality indoor 3G coverage. The cell itself plugs into a regular broadband connection but enables you to surf at high speeds via your mobile phone's browser.
Femtocells have been predicted to appeal to smartphone users who want access to their emails and the Net via 3G when they are at home. Softbank seems to be pitching the technology at consumers in general, however.
The whole femtocell exercise has been made possible by NEC implementing an IMS-based (IP Multimedia Subsystem) network backbone alongside a SIP server.
Most of us normally associate SIP with 'Presence' on a messaging system but in this case SIP tells Softbank where the user is – so it can price 3G calls differently based on location.
It's intriguing that this is one of the first major uses for IMS, which is effectively an industry standard for building an IP-based network out of all the bits you need to create a working cellular or fixed telecoms network.
More to the point, Softbank inherited its network from Vodafone so presumably it wouldn't be that difficult for Vodafone to follow suit in its existing territories.
Incidentally, the femtocells are supplied by British firm Ubiquisy and labelled as ZAPs (Zonegate Access Points).
"The Japanese market has always led the world in mobile technology so it comes as little surprise that Softbank is the first operator to deploy 3G femtocells," commented Ubiquisys CEO, Chris Gilbert.
It's certainly true that Japan had commercial 3G way before the rest of us and using femtocells is one good way of extending 3G network coverage.
Japanese subscribers will be able to get their hands on a ZAP femtocell from January 2009.
Japan first with commercial femtocells
By Tony Dennis on Sep 23, 2008 9:30AM