GSM Base Station by Pyb

You may have heard of femtocells, but perhaps you haven't. This article will explain what a femtocell is, why you may need one and who offers them.

A femtocell is, effectively a home hub for mobile telecoms. Think of your computer's wireless router. Well, a femtocell looks similar and does a similar job. It acts as a miniature version of a base station (BTS) – which are those big antennas you see around the place. It acts as a mini-base station, boosting and improving your wireless signal. Some houses and small businesses can benefit from having a femtocell to ensure their indoor mobile signal improves and their calls do not drop from poor mobile signal strength.

The case for and against femtocells:

The femtocell connects to the cellular network using broadband such as DSL or cable. While some people are in praise of the femtocell, some mobile operators are currently selling these to the public, and the argument goes: "If we have poor mobile signal coverage, why should we have to pay for the operator to boost their signal – surely they should pay?" It's a fair point. Most operators selling femtocells do ensure that the improved coverage benefits only the end user and their families, rather than, say, if you were in an apartment complex, benefiting the whole block.

Femtocell installations:

Femtocells are easy to install, and depending on the model chosen (not all models work with all mobile operators), some can also act as a home wireless router. They are simply plugged in and they work – very little set up required.

Presently, if the end user uses an ADSL or Ethernet connection to the Internet, they will have to share this service with the femtocell, leading to potential quality of service issues, which is why they are touted as a 4G technology, as their successful use is partially dependent on a wireless backhaul network. However, femtocells are being used today on 3G networks. However, the 4G femtocell offerings will be more complex and offer greater advantages to both the end user and mobile operator.

Cellular operator issues with femtocells:

There is concern in the telecoms industry that the unpredictability of how many new femtocells are turned on at any one time can cause issues in the network such as overload and bottlenecking. Imagine if 2000 people in Oregon all decided to buy a femtocell and turn it on the same day – the network configuration would be vastly changed and problems for the operator could easily arise.

However, at this point, it's not a concern, as uptake on femtocells since their launch has been slower than many industry experts anticipated, despite some mobile operators offering better 'home mobile' tariffs (as a route to FMC – Fixed Mobile Convergence) to attract customers.

Mobile operators offering femtocells:

Today in the US, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel all offer femtocells to their customers (some in limited regions only). Through the rest of the world, Asia leads the way in femtocell deployments, with Europe close behind.