Ubiquisys, a UK company that develops femtocell home base station technology for mobile telephony, has announced completion of a $25m Series B funding round in which search maven Google joined its A-round VCs.
Femtocell technology are designed to enable 3G devices to be used in the home without the coverage issues mobile phones currently encounter in indoor environments. Femtocells also promise to make it easier for 3G cellular devices to act as the conduit for delivering data connectivity and content into the residential market.
This is part of what Swindon-based Ubiquisys plans to do with the money from the second funding round, to expand on the development of applications and services, according to a spokesperson for the company.
Ubiquisys declined to go into more detail, but one idea being bandied around is that, since each femtocell base station will support up to four subscribers in a home scenario, it could detect as soon as one of the four arrives within its radius and automatically download to their handset, say, MP3 files or podcasts that the particular individual has defined as being of interest.
There will also be room for third parties to develop apps and services on a Ubiquisys femtocell, the spokesperson went on.
A lot of the development work underway in the femto industry right now is also about getting the price of the base station down far enough to enable a mass-market take-up: the ballpark figure spoken of generally is $100 to $200. Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin said last week that the carrier is looking at deploying femtocells in mid-2008, but also raised the price issue for the technology as a barrier to wider adoption by mobile operators.
The latest round follows a Series A worth $12m, announced in September 2006, and Ubiquisys made the point that, while this round is designed to take it from the trial phase with a number of carriers through to actual revenue, this is not necessarily the last round.
There has been a lot of buzz around femto technology this year, as well as some M&A activity, with CDMA femto manufacturer Airvana buying into the GSM world with the acquisition of another UK player, 3way.
Picocells, which are femto’s big brother both in terms of number of simultaneous calls supported and coverage area, have been around for several years, being used to improve voice coverage in office buildings and so on. However, femto is gaining more traction because (a) it is a more mass-market technology and (b) with the advent of 3G, it offers more than improved voice coverage, i.e. the ability for mobile carriers to offer data services into the home.
Conversely, femto also looks set to be a way for cellular operators to offer fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) services without losing revenue to a broadband operator as looks like in the dual-mode handset scenario. With femto, the call is routed over a broadband connection too, but the cellular operator retains control of the session and can set a lower tariff on traffic traversing the femto base station compared to calls made when the subscriber is out and about. Most importantly from the carrier’s perspective, the subscriber rather than the service provider shoulders the cost of both the power and backhaul for the femtocell.
As to Google’s involvement in Ubiquisys’ latest funding round, the search engine heavyweight has been delving into areas of wireless connectivity for some time, from funding a municipal WiFi in Mountain View to winning the concession to operate a network in San Francisco with Earthlink and recruiting WLAN experts in Europe.
Ultimately all and any form of access to networks is a potential source of revenue for the company, be it from location-based services or, given the vast server farms it has been deploying across the globe, from the delivery of content. If someone carries out a Google search on a 3G device connected to a femtocell in their house and locates some content they want, Google may well want to offer to deliver it from the server farm nearest to that base station.