A Beginner’s Guide to Femtocell Technology

“Can you hear me now?” was a popular phrase for a while amongst people who were mocking the poor sound and coverage of their mobile phones. Although it turned into something of a joke, it’s no laughing matter when your cell phone suddenly loses its ability to allow you to enjoy clear communication. Unfortunately, this is often the case in homes and buildings where coverage decreases considerably as soon as you go indoors. Since more and more people are ditching their landlines in favor of mobile phones, as well as because of the simple fact that people want to be able to talk on their cell phones wherever they are, it has become necessary to work on new technology that will facilitate calling coverage both indoors and out.

femtocell2_03_03_08.jpg

 Femtocell technology could be the answer. In addition to facilitating better indoor call coverage, this emerging technology reduces the drain that advanced mobile services (such as mobile broadband) are placing on the capacity offered by phone companies.

What Is Femtocell Technology?

femtocell3_03_03_08.jpg

One of the solutions that people have started to use is femtocell technology. This technology may be better known to the user as an Access Point Base Station, a small device which is installed in the home or office in order to offer better support to mobile phones there. These base stations can accommodate up to five cell phones which means that you can get increased coverage for your whole household. Essentially, you set up the femtocell technology in your home and it serves to enhance the cell phone signal that you receive indoors so that your call quality isn’t decreased when you’re talking indoors.

Benefits of Femtocell Technology

The main benefit of femtocell technology is that it does increase the call quality and coverage of mobile phones inside the residential or small business environment. However, there are also additional benefits of this technology which may enhance its appeal to someone who is weighing the options of whether or not to invest in a base station for the home. Some of those additional benefits include:

- Reduced costs on calls. This varies depending on the situation that you have with your phone and calling plans but there is potential to reduce your calling rates when using femtocell technology to improve your calls. This feature is increasing as more companies start to look at creating femtocell technology solutions for their consumers. The cost to the cell phone operator is actually lower in terms of both initial expense and ongoing expense when femtocell technology is used. As it sees more widespread use, it is likely to see these phone operators reducing costs accordingly.
- Increased call capacity. Phone companies are highly interested in developing femtocell technology because it allows them to reduce the drain on their own networks and offer increased calling capacity to consumers. With more and more people taking an interest in capacity-draining services such as mobile broadband, it is becoming necessary for technology to be developed that supports this kind of use.
- New services. Femtocell technology has the potential to offer new services to mobile phone users. This is a new technology which is still being developed and improved upon so the options are minimal at the current time but wide open for opportunities in the near future. Some of those services, such as increased mobile broadband options, are related to the increased call capacity that femtocell technology offers. Others are related to the type of network that is created and include things like easily sharing data between your home computer and your mobile phone.
- Early alternative to Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) possibilities. One of the areas of mobile phone technology that developers are currently hard at work on making a reality is the idea of Fixed Mobile Convergence. This refers to a seamless transition for the user between wired and wireless communication devices. As it becomes a reality, it would be possible to use one phone to switch between networks and calling plans. Until that becomes a reality, femtocell technology provides an in-home opportunity that mobile phone users can take advantage of.

History and Development of Femtocell Technology

Femtocell technology is a new technology in comparison with other mobile communication devices. It first began to be developed in 2002 and started gaining interest among a range of companies in 2004. It caught on with the media and began to get noticed by mobile phone consumers last year. Since then, there have been developments made by major companies that are seeking to bring this technology to the average phone user.

Here are some of the developments that have been made by specific businesses in the industry:

femtocell1_03_03_08.jpg

Sprint Nextel. This company teamed up with Samsung Electronics to create a femtocell system that works with all Sprint handsets. A limited deployment of the system was launched in late 2007 in the United States in order to test out the product in the general mobile phone market. This company has a leg up on the competition because it got an early start in trials but it’s also basing this on a 2G system whereas most other businesses are basing their femtocell developments on 3G systems.
O2. One of the leaders in femtocell technology being developed in the UK is O2. The company has just partnered with NEC to launch limited testing which, if it goes well, will be extended to a 500-person trial this summer. O2s goal is to use this technology to improve indoor 3G mobile broadband.
TeliaSonera. This is a provider working primarily in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. They plan to work with two different vendors to start testing out femtocell base stations in two of their markets this spring. That testing should reveal which vendor’s approach is the best one for the company to move forward within developing both femtocell technology and a Fixed Mobile Convergence plan.
Vodafone. Vodafone is another player in the international market that is seeking to make this technology a reality. They have started trials in Spain to move forward towards achieving this goal.

Problems in the Industry

Although there is a lot of potential for femtocell technology, there are also flaws in the technology because of how new it is. Businesses are working hard to limit these flaws in order to allow this technology to move forward. (Fixing the problems is a large part of what these recent trials have been about.)

femtocell4_03_03_08.jpg

Some of the problems with femtocell technology that are being worked out include:

- Interference. One of the main things that femtocell technology does is that it increases coverage for users. However, there are some problems with interference on a femtocell system which limits the benefit of the technology. Reducing that interference is a major goal of businesses developing this kind of technology.
- Installation costs. There are some concerns that the current femtocell systems are too difficult for consumers to set up and install themselves which can increase the initial cost of transition over to the technology.
- Privacy and security. As with any new technology, there are kinks to be worked out in making sure that setting up a base station in the home doesn’t compromise the consumer’s privacy and security.

What to Expect

Femtocell technology is still in the early stages of development but it’s likely to be something that you’re going to hear a lot about throughout the rest of 2008. As the various trials taking place around the world begin to produce results, different businesses will make announcements about how they plan to move forward with the technology. While most consumers won’t be looking at using this technology immediately, it’s something that is highly likely to be part of their technological vocabulary in the years to come.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Femtocell Technology

  1. Hi Kathryn,
    I appreciate your post.It proved informative to me.
    Can you or anyone around discuss more about protocols & process of connecting the
    1.Mobile phone with data network.
    2.Data network with the core network of mobile operator.

  2. I would say the three main problems being worked out for femtocells today are (a) interference with the outdoor cellular network (b) product cost which the industry would like to get under $100 and (c) avoiding customer issues by automating self-installation and configuration. As Jim Parker said, there are no security or privacy issues with femtocells (of CDMA or UMTS/HSPA variety).

  3. Hi Jim, How does one interface Samsung Femtocell products with an existing CDMA provider network? Will it require special hardcoded information for a specific CDMA operator? Will the IPSEC encryption require a VPN terminal equipment at the service provider network?

  4. Privacy and Security are not issues with the Samsung Femtocell products, (Samsung UbiCell or Sprint Airave). It uses CDMA over the air, (CDMA is inherently secure) and all communications through the Internet are encrypted via IPSEC. Let me know if you have any further questions on this topic.

    Regards,
    Jim Parker
    j.parker@samsung.com

Leave a Reply