Femtocells, the consumer-grade cell signal boosting devices sold by operators like AT&T here in the U.S., may soon offer additional value beyond simply enhancing cellular coverage indoors. The proliferation of the devices could soon contribute to a whole new class of mobile applications, using key attributes like location and presence to trigger specific actions when a user crossed into or out of a "femtozone" - that is, an area covered by these devices.
According to new research from ABI, consumer-grade femtozone services could include things like family alerts, security alerts, social media updates and other "connected home" services like content synchronization, remote control applications, home energy management and more.
Already, these types of services exist, but are triggered through the use of other technologies. For example, geo-fencing technology is currently used by a number of mobile applications, from the coupon alerting app Cellfire to the automatic Foursquare checkin service Mayor Maker. But these applications use smartphone-grade GPS signals to determine location. With Femtozone services, the location element would be determined through the use of the femtocell device itself.
Femtocell-Triggered Family Alerts
ABI Research provides a simple example of how such a system could work in the case of a family alerting system. A family member would arrive home, and therefore, into the home's femtozone. This would trigger an alert on their mobile phone and could also send an SMS text message to other family members. It could additionally activate home security systems or sync content from the phone to other devices in the home, like TVs, laptops or media players. The system could work in reverse, too - triggering actions that occur when you leave the femtozone and even providing remote access to digital content stored within the home when you're out.
Femtozone Services: $2 Billion by 2015
This isn't an entirely new technology, says ABI, as similar systems are already being used in Japan. The technology will see further adoption in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming months, boosting the number of femtozone subscribers in 2012 to around 2.3 million. The related services will then have a revenue of more than $100 million. In 2015, the numbers will rise sharply when 45% of femtocell users subscribe to femtozone services. Although initial adoption will take place in the Asia-Pacific market, ABI says ultimately the North American market will be the largest.
The need for indoor mobile coverage won't even necessarily be the deciding factor that prompts consumers to buy a femtocell. It will be the services the device offers. "Femtozone services will be bundled with femtocell subscriptions and will also be available individually, increasing the perceived value of having a femtocell in the home," says Practice director Aditya Kaul. "Eventually, mobile apps available from Apple or Google App stores may be designed to work via a femtocell. The femtozone services market is expected to reach almost $2 billion in revenue by 2015, but operators need to act fast, as the popularity of Wi-Fi/GPS-based over the top applications could pose a hindrance."
That last word of caution from Kaul is important to note here. This trend is heavily dependent on operator adoption. If they drag their heels on this, this market could easily fizzle, from what it sounds like. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a place for the technology in non-consumer facing femtocell devices like access points, gateways, modems and other hardware used by business or retail establishments. No more manual Foursquare checkins to Starbucks thanks to femtocells? Yes, please.