Femto Forum wants to simplify application development

The organization sees big opportunity for new services linked to the base station devices; looks to Apple's AppStore for inspiration

The industry organization the Femto Forum has announced a new initiative that aims to provide a common applications environment and standardized APIs to enable developers to create applications that work across femtocells from different vendors, it said on Tuesday.

Femtocells have, so far, been primarily seen as a way for operators to improve indoor coverage. They are small base stations that connect to a fixed broadband connection. But femtocell proponents also see a big opportunity for new services linked to the devices. Just like everyone else in the mobile sector, they have seen the enormous success of Apple's AppStore, and want to get in on the action.

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The AppStore has shown that there is a lot interest in mobile applications and also in how to engage with developers, according to Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum.

Most femtocell applications aim to take advantage of the fact that the devices can recognize a user's presence. So when a user enters their home their phone can automatically receive personalized reminders from family members to upload photos to a PC or download their favorite podcasts, according to a spokesman at the forum.

But as it stands today there is no common approach for developers. So applications have to be redeveloped to work on different femtocells, making the development process longer and more tedious.

So, the Femto Forum has created a new special interest group with two main tasks: develop a common application environment and work with other bodies on the standardization of APIs (application programming interfaces).

"We want to make the barrier to entry as low as possible," said Saunders.

But it will also work to promote the potential of femtocell applications and their significance to, for example, operators. On Tuesday Vodafone announced its femtocell, the Vodafone Access Gateway, which is being pushed as a way to improve indoor coverage.

Rolling out femtocells to improve coverage is a very good place to start and services will come in the next phase, Saunders said.

"We know femtocells can do more, but the immediate need is for better indoor coverage," said Nicola Buckley, product manager for Vodafone Access Gateway, which will be available online and in stores from July 1.

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