Cellular providers and businesses are showing increasing interest in Femtocell technology. The Femtocell's design and method of operation is very similar to a Wi-Fi access point, including the Ethernet connection. Instead of using the cellular network for backhaul, the Femtocell routes signaling and call traffic through an existing broadband connection. Since there is no need to attach to the existing cellular network, locating the Femtocell in buildings where service is poor is relatively easy.
Femtocell technology shows great promise as a method to:
- Improve coverage -- where existing cellular service is poor or nonexistent, especially in buildings.
- Enhance quality of service -- with elevated data rates and reduced latency.
- Realize convergence -- one device, one number, one voice mail box.
The number one advantage to using Femtocells is that it allows subscribers to use their normal 3G phone for all of their telecommunications needs. Other equally important advantages are:
- Cost -- existing 3G phones are cheap when compared to dual-mode phones.
- Longer battery life -- improved signal quality allows lower transmit power, which means less battery drain.
- One phone bill -- no need to have both a VoIP and cellular provider.
- Simple to deploy -- minimal subscriber involvement -- plug and play.
- High QoS using licensed spectrum -- unlicensed Wi-Fi connections are prone to noise and latency.
- Reduced cellular network congestion -- which is vitally important to cellular providers.
Typical of technology in the early stages of development, equipment manufacturers and service providers are struggling to establish standards. Several major concerns have surfaced:
- Will a Femtocell interfere with the nearby existing cellular node?
- Will other subscribers be allowed to use my Femtocell -- open versus closed system?
- What happens if a subscriber moves a Femtocell to a different location?
- Will using a Femtocell break the subscriber's EULA with their ISP?
As with other Fixed Mobile Convergence technologies, such as dual-mode phones and new Wi-Fi services, Femtocell technology has influential backers giving their financial support to leading equipment manufacturers. Google, for example, has given Ubiquisys venture capital to the tune of 25 million dollars.
Another interesting participant is Sprint, which is making all sorts of waves about its new WiMAX service, Xohm, while ever so quietly beginning trials of a market-ready CDMA Femtocell modem. The next step is a WiMAX Femtocell and Xohm combination that would allow Sprint to offer a seamless voice/data network with some serious bandwidth.