September 16, 2014 Jessica Sims
Femtocell: The Future of Wireless Broadband?

Femtocell: The Future of Wireless Broadband?

Femtocell is quickly becoming a buzzword in the mobile space, and it also impacts wireless data users one way or another.  Basically, femtocell is a term used to describe a small base station or a signal strengthener/repeater, but there are many factors to consider other than just the technical ones when it comes to femtocell.  Of course, that does not mean that the entire concept of micro/relay towers is even technically sound in all cases.

What is Femtocell Really?

Wireless signals can be fickle things, and troubleshooting wireless problems can be a serious undertaking.  We here are High Speed Experts routinely receive requests to help troubleshoot wireless problems, and have created a three-part wireless troubleshooting guide.  Our guide covers signals that come from laptops, desktops, and wireless routers, and that means two things: shorter distances and higher power.  Simply put, distance and low-power requirements both make transmissions difficult, add in high-throughput and the problem is rather severe.  In fact, 3G and 4G data standards are really amazing considering the power profiles offered by most portable devices/cellular phones.

A femtocell tower is basically a mini-relay station that can be installed in a property or in a vehicle.  The idea is that by providing a much closer tower with much greater power consumption capabilities than those provided by a cellular phone or smartphone battery, that signals will be better.  Of course, theory and reality collide in many cases, which leads people to ask…

Does Femtocell Really Work?

There are many reports of femtocell stations that do not do what they say they will do, and this could be due to many reasons.  It could truly be that some of the early micro/relay stations do not work as advertised or are in need of a firmware upgrade, a common problem for early tech adopters.  It could be that some consumers have cellular phones that are not designed to be compatibility with femtocell towers.  Some networks do not support femtocell technology, and some only support very specific femtocell technology.

Add to this the laundry list of technical standards and compliance-issues, and it is entirely possible that most of the horror stories are the result of early adopters, unprepared firmware, and other issues that are easily explained.  Despite the fact that it is possible to easily attribute so many possible complaints to one reason or another, the early roll-out of femtocell technology has left a bad taste in the mouths of many.  This is particularly bad for those looking into femtocell technology in order to boost their mobile broadband performance and/or reliability.

The Argument Against Femtocell

The most obvious and common argument femtocell would be that service providers should be responsible for building out networks and ensuring connectivity.  This argument certainly has merit, but there are some technical considerations that make it unreasonable for network providers to offer affordable service that has very high quality levels and no dead spots.  The reason has to do with the incredible cost of even smaller cellular relay towers.

While it would be possible for carriers to build out their networks in such a way in theory, in practice the results would probably be a network that would cost too much.  That cost would slow R&D and be passed on to consumers.  In short, it might seem ironic but poor service helps make mobile broadband and cellular plans affordable.  That does not mean that all carriers should be let off the hook for poor service, but that there might be a place for femtocell technology.

The Argument For Femtocell

The aforementioned argument for femtocell is simple: cellular providers have an obligation to provide great service in a wide area, but they cannot ensure high-quality/high-performance connectivity in all areas.  The future of mini-relay stations might have consumers willing to offer open access to larger relaytowers receiving compensation in some form, which could help networks build quicker and more thoroughly (or deep in network lingo).  A similar arrangement is being used in many British and French cities in regards to open WiFi access, and has proven quite effective.

Is Femtocell Right For You?

  • If, after reading this article, you feel femtocell might be for you, then you need to do the following:
  • Call your wireless service provider and ask them which standard(s) they support.
  • Ensure that your mobile device/phone supports femtocell technology.
  • Buy an appropriate micro/relay tower.
  • Ensure that your new femtocell tower is running the appropriate firmware.  Note the use of the word appropriate instead of latest.  This may take a little research.
  • Learn where to place your new femtocell tower for best effect.

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