Today T-Mobile Ventures, the investment arm of the European mobile network, has made a ‘strategic investment’ (read, ‘not that big’) in British start-up Ubiquisys[press release]. The firm makes femtocells, a kind of wireless router which turns a broadband Internet connection into a mini-3G base station (but without the cancer-inducing irradiation).
Ubiquisys raised $25m only seven months ago so it doesn’t need the cash, but T-Mobile is clearly keen on getting into this technology. It also has backing from Accel Partners, Advent Venture Partners and Atlas Ventures. Ubiquisys looks to have a good chance of getting the first product onto the market. Its technology is being used in a British trial by O2 and there could be a commercial launch within a year.
Mobile carriers love femtocells (despite the odd name) because they potentially turn a broadband internet connection into a cell-tower for a mobile phone, extending their networks and allowing them to compete against fixed-line businesses and offer VOIP inside the home. They also open up the possibilities for things like real TV to your mobile and other services.
The idea is that once you’ve used a fancy mobile service on a broadband line in the home, you’d switch to using it when out and about, thus pumping up the mobile carrier’s revenues. Yes, you could do this over Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi remains a luxury handset feature (e.g. iPhone) – we are talking about the mass market here, the real opportunity. It also means that an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network operator) could do the same with a femtocell network.
Say, for instance, a Web giant with a lot of cash and an intense interest in reaching the mobile market, and one which already has a mobile platform in development?
Step forward, Google which has the Android mobile platform. And what has Google invested in? You guessed it: Ubiquisys.
Right now no one in the UK is planning to supply femtocells for use on someone else’s broadband line, especially since mobile networks are now so ubiquitous here. But, there is not thing to say it couldn’t happen in another country, like the US for instance, where mobile coverage remains patchy by comparison.
Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, here’s some video from the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones on Ubiquisys: