Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Enterprise Femto: "If you can dream it, you can do it."

In light of recent roll-outs of consumer Femto access points in Europe and here in the US, I ponder the future of indoor wireless inside the enterprise. Clearly a different approach than a consumer Femto is needed for operators to establish themselves within the enterprise with a Femto-like solution to improve cellular communication for voice and data within the enterprise campus. With the subscriber density, an AP must be able to handle interference, multiple hops and handoffs between APs and adhere to stringent security requirements from both the enterprise IT teams as well as the operators.

The history of WiFi taught us that 'rogue' access points are 'bad' and that centralized management is good (Cisco & Aruba). Enterprise Femto should learn from the good, bad and ugly of WiFi enterprise deployment. Network and RF management are essential tools. With that said, we should also remember that IT teams are for the most part not very savvy when it comes to RF management - nor should they be. Very few IT teams possess the skills required to deploy multiple radio access points. WiFi is very easy because of the wide spectrum is uses at primarily 2.4 and 5.8GHz. But, even WiFi APs encounter interference when you have multiple people accessing few or many APs within a small perimeter. Add licensed spectrum to the mix and the pool of know-how people shrink by several magnitudes. Some context for the next few thoughts:

In Sweden, monthly data usage of an average mobile broadband subscriber has doubled during 2008 to 4.5 GByte. (article by Cellular News). Needless to say, broadband usage takes place anywhere and everywhere and considering that up to 70% of voice/data usage takes place indoors -- that includes the enterprise as well. The data consumption is not specific to Sweden. People will make use of all available bandwidth wherever they are. Recent studies found that people do not switch off 3G devices or dongles when they are within reach of WiFi. So whether you agree or not, like it or not, the great majority of subscribers do not actively switch from 3G to WiFi when WiFi is present and thus 3G data consumption will take inside the enterprise regardless of spectrum use.

For enterprise Femto to succeed within the enterprise, operators need a simple to install Femto solution which does not rely on the skills of IT management teams to deploy and manage. Simply put, Femto should be a managed network solution offered by the operators where little or no IT team involvement is needed. Why?

Recently published research from mobile systems integrator Cognito found that "while 86 per cent of IT departments have been charged with implementing a mobile strategy, nearly a half say their team lacks the skills needed to integrate business-critical applications with mobile devices." The research also found that 'security' and 'policies' are major factors of concern and that --- no surprise -- lack of " knowledgeable people as well."

Most departments look at enterprise mobility as a dreaded "do-it-yourself" project with the use of WiFi or personal 3G devices and dongles. In this model, enterprise IT departments are responsible for capital expenditure to acquire the enterprise WiFi equipment and for ongoing operational expenses (i.e., supporting, managing, and troubleshooting). The same goes for the cost of DAS and Picocell. If you want coverage you have to wait for it and pay for it. If IT implements Voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) services, the team becomes the enterprise’s “operator inside.” When calls drop, handovers fail, and client software does not work, the IT guy gets the call (day or night). So why bother with the expense if the IT teams are not equipped to handle mobility and RF management? The simple answer is...enterprise IT has no choice (either do it yourself or do not do it at all). Hopefully things will change in 2010 when Femto matures and more options are available for the enterprise.

CIOs will continue their focus on reducing OpEx and OpEx and it has become increasingly more challenging for the CIOs to justify and allocate budgets for internal enterprise mobility projects (we all know what a great success 'FMC' with WiFi has been) . This presents a great opportunity for mobile operators and their partners to offer indoor mobility as a service to the enterprise.

For the operators to get foothold within the enterprise, a properly managed Femto solution is the best course of attack (and then 'defend' the turf). The operators need to run the business case for the Capex burden and potential revenue uptake as result of providing reliable cellular access inside the enterprise. If done right, the operators have a re-occuring a future revenue path to upsell more access and application 'cloud' services to captive audience.

To quote the great Walt Disney, "If you can dream it, you can do it." Or in business terms, if the business case is there - do it!