An estimated 40 per cent of European users might be making a femtocell purchase within the next year, despite the fact that the technology remains largely unheard of.

Femtocells have long been a hot topic on the industry agenda and awareness of the technology is often cited as an initial hurdle. However, infrastructure vendor Motorola believes the tide is changing and reckons that a significant number of European users will be making a femtocell purchase within the next 12 months.

The vendor got ABI Research to quiz around 1,800 mobile users from six European countries, and found, to no great surprise that over three quarters of respondents were not familiar with femtocells.

Nevertheless, when the key benefits, such as increased mobile coverage in the home, improved call quality and lower cost ‘in home’ voice call charges, were explained, over 40 per cent of respondents said they would definitely or probably buy a femtocell within the next 12 months.

Fortunately for them they might not have to, seeing as many operators interested in the technology see it as a good way of offloading traffic from the 3G network and will probably give them away to customers.

Motorola found that Poland has the highest potential rate of early femtocell adopters with 67 per cent planning to purchase a box, followed by Spain with 62 per cent, Italy with 61 per cent, France and the UK both with 34 per cent, and Germany with 33 per cent. Germany’s stance is particularly interesting, given that the country has particularly good indoor coverage for 3G, perhaps weakening the potential for femtos.

However, femto technology seems to be evolving in capability, which may lay the groundwork for greater awareness and potential adoption. Moto found that femtocells are viewed as an extension to the family media environment, with 51 per cent of respondents interested in a ‘family plan’ that allowed various members of a household to connect to the femtocell.

In related news on Monday, femto vendor ip.access introduced a 3G Home Routing technology that connects 3G phones to a home network via a femtocell. ip.access claims the technology will make way for a new wave of applications such as streaming live video from a home media server to the handset, using the phone to browse the music on the home server and select tracks to play, or displaying a slideshow of phone photos on the TV.

All well and good for the digital home, but not all commentators think it will be that easy. Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis recently released a report which predicts that beyond the ‘femto 1.0’ business models, which work on the selling point that femtos work flawlessly with existing handsets, devices will need to be revised.

Bubley argues that if the phone will be used differently, it needs to be designed differently as well. “Standard phones can work with femtocells, but they are not optimised,” he notes. “The phone needs to be “aware” of the femtocell, ideally both in the radio and the application platform.”

Using delayed and under-adopted mobile network innovations such as UMA and IMS as examples, Bubley warns that the femtocell industry needs to be more open minded about the need for modifying and optimising handsets, and to consider the time and effort these changes will take to achieve. “It is necessary to look at everything from physical design, to network protocols, to testing, to the phone OS, to femto-specific applications,” he said.