French telcos utilise femtocells for broadband mesh network

The business model of Spain’s Fon network has been deployed by a number of telcos in Europe. Essentially, the phenomenon of Fon enables customers to share a portion of their bandwidth in exchange for free access on shared broadband connections of others on the network. Recently, KPN partnered with the Fon network, by which it was able to offer its customers access to about 1,500 WiFi hotspots across the Netherlands as well as to a network of some seven million hotspots internationally. A separate public WiFi signal is created for shared connections.

For MNOs and telcos, the model enables them to offload mobile data traffic from their own mobile infrastructure, which is expensive for customers for the data transferred, to fixed infrastructure, which is far cheaper.

In France, operators have automated the process by including functionality within the hardware provided to customers. Orange’s Livebox WiFi router provides WiFi sharing, as does the Freebox Revolution provided by Free Mobile. This was designed at the outset to be fitted with a Freebox Femto which acts as a personal 3G base station. The Femto could be inserted by the customer easily enough, but now generally comes with the femto built in as part of the Freebox Revolution subscription.

Free’s broadband division has also deployed WiFi as customers’ home gateways, creating a public hotspot network. With mobile services, femtocells create the overlay which allows Free’s subscribers, when in range, to be passed between the network of base stations to the network of femtocells.

As Free Mobile’s subscriber base grows (the operator report almost 6.8 million subscribers by June 2013), the femtocell network is growing with it. The model is significantly expanding Free’s coverage, and greatly adding to network capacity. Rather than straining the mobile network (being upgraded to HSPA+, so quite capable), most traffic is being managed by residential gateway of the user community. This is principally because most mobile data traffic emanates from the work and home environment.

Henry Lancaster
Senior Analyst

For more detail and analysis on these developments, see the updated report France – Mobile Data Market Insights – 3G, 4G and Forecasts

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