The company has deployed the technology in an actual neighborhood and shown good results in terms of outdoor coverage, Grob said. Even in the weakest coverage areas there, outdoor users got 700Kbps (bits per second), according to Qualcomm. When combined with the effect of making 3.5GHz spectrum available, carriers could achieve the 1000x improvement in network capacity if one out of five homes in an area had a publicly available small cell, Grob said.
However, sharing in-home cells raises its own issues. The traffic that goes through such cells reaches the larger Internet over the consumer's broadband connection. Where the provider of broadband is the same as the mobile operator, it may be relatively easy to build a business model that satisfies both the subscriber and the mobile and wireline provider. Where the resident's mobile service comes from a cellular carrier and the wired broadband is from a cable operator, it may be more complicated.
Grob said he's hopeful that Internet service providers and mobile operators will find business arrangements that work. Subscribers who make their home cells available to others might get a variety of different incentives to do so.
One possible business model is "reciprocal access," in which users who make their home networks available get access to other participants' networks when they pass by their homes. Fon, a Spanish service provider, offers a similar program to consumers who choose to make their home Wi-Fi networks publicly available.
Alternatively, carriers could offer access to the home cells for a fee, similarly to hotel Wi-Fi, with the resident enjoying the fruits of that business in some way. A third possibility would be for wired broadband providers, such as cable companies, to build the small cell into a set-top box or home gateway and offer that to mobile operators on a wholesale basis.
The technology to secure a shared in-home cell and to reserve a certain amount of bandwidth for the resident already exists, Grob said.
However, on top of business issues, some of these arrangements could introduce new complexities to both home broadband and mobile services, IDC analyst Will Stofega said in an interview after the presentation. Most service providers already have a complex set of metering, billing and accounting systems even without having to credit subscribers back in some way or manage new arrangements with other service providers. Making all the pieces work together might be a real challenge, he said.