Japanese mobile operator Softbank is to launch commercial 3G IMS-based femtocell services from January 2009, making it the first operator in the world to do so. In a press release this morning, NEC said that Softbank has placed an order for its IMS-based femtocell systems that consist of IMS Cores, femtocell gateways and femtocell access points. The operator is already understood to be trialling the technology ahead of the January launch having completed development of a commercial system in June of this year. The order also includes kit from the UK-based femtocell specialist, Ubiquisys, which names T-Mobile and Google among its investors. US operator Sprint became the first operator to launch a commercial femtocell product, though this is currently limited to 2G services. “The Japanese market has always led the world in mobile technology so it comes as little surprise that Softbank is the first operator to deploy 3G femtocells,” commented Chris Gilbert, CEO of Ubiquisys.

Femtocells are compact mobile base stations designed for use in homes, which receive and transmit mobile phone radio waves using fixed indoor broadband connections and offer improved indoor mobile coverage. They are also increasingly being seen as a central element to LTE network architectures. “In most parts of the world, LTE will be deployed using higher frequency bands. Higher frequencies penetrate structures less effectively than low frequencies, so femtocells and picocells offer an attractive way to compensate for lower indoor signal strength and provide LTE’s touted bandwidth,” said ABI analyst Nadine Manjaro, reports Cellular News. “Our forecasts show an upswing in femtocell and picocell penetration that coincides with the expected LTE deployment timeframe.” In related news today, NEC announced it has made a strategic investment in Kineto Wireless, a supplier of FMC solutions to mobile operators, though financial details were not disclosed.