It is likely that femtocells and picocells will form an integrated part of the initial rollouts of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, say analysts at ABI Research.

These cellular mini-base stations, which offer improved wireless coverage indoors, have been generating considerable interest in mobile wireless markets, and according to senior analyst Nadine Manjaro, LTE deployment is expected to boost shipments and revenues. “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. Our forecasts show an upswing in femtocell and picocell penetration that coincides with the expected LTE deployment timeframe.”

In Europe and other regions, LTE will operate in the 2.6 GHz band, although in the US it will largely be found in 700 MHz range, and in China TD-LTE will be most likely be deployed in the 1880 to 1920 MHz and 2010 to 2025 MHz bands, so the need for femtocells may be considered less pressing in those areas.

In contrast to other 3G technologies that preceded the introduction of femtocells, when LTE arrives these products will have been available for some time, and will be included in the original planned LTE architecture. “We will see some macro network deployment of LTE,” says Manjaro, “but not to the same extent that we saw with previous technologies. I think a large portion of it will deployed via femto and picocells alone, with macro deployments following later.”

Some observers even suggest that all LTE deployments will initially use femtocells alone.

Many manufacturers such as Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola are supporting a new interface – “Iu-h” – in the LTE architecture, which incorporates femtocells and femto gateways. Others such as picoChip, mimoON and Agilent are partnering on femtocell design and testing with LTE architecture.

ABI Research’s study “Long Term Evolution (LTE)” charts the LTE timeline, operators’ strategies and migration plans. It discusses IPR, backhaul and security, includes forecasts for subscribers, base stations and femtocells, and lists planned LTE trials and deployments.