Femtocells Asia 2011: What I Learned in 72 Singapore Hours

Unable to sleep, yet wildly comfortable (thanks Singapore Airlines – as always) on my long haul flight back from Femtocells Asia 2011, I figure, “Why not hammer out a note on my top observations from the event?” But before delving into what I am sure will prove to be a life-changing read for you, I have to plug Singapore. For those who haven’t been, GO – it’s a lovely city (well, city-state that is). I only spent a whopping three days there, but I’m sold on its allure and will be heading back sometime soon.

Okay, now on to the event…

Overall, it was a solid show with strong regional operator participation. It was intriguing to hear from a diverse group; represented at the event were not only the major markets of China, Japan and Korea, but also Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The most interesting tidbits I picked up are as follows:

Femto Asia 2011 Observation #1: The femtocell is an emergency response superhero

As we’re all aware, APAC has not been without its share of horrible natural disasters over the past few years including the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. What most of us probably do not realize, though, is the big role femtocell has played in responding to these disasters. Each of the operators lavished praise on how the femtocell proved its mettle under trying circumstances. Whether it was flooding in Thailand or earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the operators mobilized immediately by throwing femtos on top of SUVs or makeshift flag poles to provide mobile coverage to civilians and rescue workers alike in areas where communications ceased to exist. The low-power and ultraportable properties of the femto make it ideal in these cases and they literally “flew” to the rescue.

Femto Asia 2011 Observation #2: Figuring out how to market the femtocell is not purely a North American issue

Other than Japan, the rest of Asia is still grappling with the finer points of femto. Almost all of the operators participating had some femtocell trial (lab or otherwise) going – unfortunately all of them were also still trying to determine how best to roll them out and specifically how to market these devices. I guess this isn’t just a North American issue. Listen up, mobile operators, and take a page out of the Softbank book: Free is the future! The reduced churn (i.e., happy customers) and CAPEX savings more than justify the investment. Step one: gain a foothold in the home. Step two: make your customers happy. Step three: leverage the platform for new applications and exploit these for all they’re worth.

Femto Asia 2011 Observation #3: Consumers really want femtocells

Multiple consumer research results were provided, not just from the Femto Forum-sanctioned Parks Associates research report, but also independently-driven vendor research that highlighted this fact. Two data points jumped out at me. First was that over 80% of frequent users of WiFi on their mobile said they’d like a femtocell. See, it’s not an arms race, and WiFi and Femto do and should co-exist. The second came from an ALU research project where the balance of complaints shifted from the vast majority being dropped calls and poor coverage to a split between coverage and slow internet and email performance. The data era has arrived and operators who don’t provide coverage and performance should beware the consequences.

Now that I’ve blown your mind with my wickedly insightful observations and before I unknowingly rest my head on the shoulder of the poor guy stuck in the middle seat, I must take a parting shot at my femto ecosystem friends.

Ok, so the new marketing move in the space seems to be to Flash some tiny or uniquely-shaped version of a femtocell. We have USB sticks, little creepy cubes like something out of a sci-fi movie, iPhone rip-offs, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, the miniaturization concept is super cool, but I beg you, please work on the packaging design. Can you imagine if Apple decided to make a femtocell? Not only would we all want one (or more) for reasons we would be utterly unable to verbalize, but we’d probably pay for it too – and happily.

What shape, size and color would you like YOUR femtocell to come in???

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