cellcom+fem to cell serviceDespite great promise, femtocells have yet to be widely adopted in the overall marketplace. But a new partnership between regional wireless carrier Cellcom, Airvana, and Taqua hope to change that, at least among smaller regional wireless carriers. The three announced a new concept, femtocell-as-a-service, or FemtoCloud as they are calling it.

Like other cloud concepts, FemtoCloud aims to lower costs and bring efficiency to carriers who want to offer femtocell services by leveraging cloud based infrastructure. In this case, the “small cell core” is the cloud based infrastructure. This partnership claims the approach will lower the costs to offer a femtocell or other small cell approach for smaller regional wireless carriers who might not have the scale to build the infrastructure themselves.

Femtocells, which are now part of a broader small cell movement which includes picocells, metrocells and microcells, are low-power wireless access points that broaden the coverage and range for wireless devices. In effect, they extend the reach of wireless networks to locations that traditional wireless towers are challenged to reach because of range or capacity.

But beyond just coverage issues, small cells also enable interesting applications, including easier synchronization of data and content between devices and digital home and monitoring services. Small cells can leverage wireline broadband services for these mobile friendly applications.

These capabilities are of particular interest to smaller regional carriers like Cellcom who serve rural territories where indoor coverage can be particularly challenging. Cellcom has built this capacity for their own use but now wants to take it a step further and offer the service to like minded rural and regional CDMA based wireless carriers. They plan to begin marketing the service later this month.

“At Cellcom, we are actively exploring new deployment models that enable regional and rural wireless operators to deliver competitive offerings to their customers,” said Rob Riordan, Executive Vice President and Director of Corporate Development at Cellcom and Nsight in an Airvana press release. “We are actively seeking carriers to be part of the first deployment of this service. There is tremendous demand for capacity on cellular networks today. I don’t see how carriers can survive without an economic deployment of small cells.”

The FemtoCloud offer leverages a small cell core from Taqua which uses “…a SIP-based mobile convergence application server that integrates with existing mobile core elements, including the HLR, SMSC, and MSC.” It also leverages Airvana’s Femtocell Service Manager and Small Cell Analytics (SCAN) service, which “…delivers standards-based device management, plug-n-play provisioning and activation, and sophisticated RF planning of small cells.”

Small cell deployments seem to be a natural fit for rural carriers, where coverage issues continue to be a challenge. With a small cell solution, conceivably a rural carrier can extend their reach and make their wireless offer more appealing in their regional market footprint. Maybe more appealing than a national tier 1 carrier’s offer. Femtocells have yet to prove this value add on a large scale. Will FemtoCloud add some needed momentum?