Femtocells outnumber proper mobe towers in US
Chumps rush to give operators free backhaul
America now has more femtocells than real cells, with 350,000 Americans now happily supplying free backhaul to their beloved network operators.
That compares to 256,000 real base stations, according to the latest femtocell figures from Informa who expect US femtocells to hit half a million by next March as operators realise it's cheaper getting customers to build the network than trying to do it themselves.
Femtocells are tiny base stations that the customer plugs into their own broadband internet access. The femtocell configures itself into under-utilised frequency (within the block owned by the network operator) and provides the customer with coverage inside their home. These mini-base stations are very attractive to network operators; without them the operators would have to build a proper base station, and pay to have all that traffic delivered to their networks.
When femtocells were first mooted, it was assumed that network operators would have to offer some sort of incentive before customers would agree to pay for bandwidth twice - once to the network operator, once to their ISP - but bundled data allowances are so big these days that no one seems to care and operators are enjoying the free ride.
Not that femtocells are a perfect technology - handoff from the femtocell to the macro network is iffy, and the reverse simply doesn't happen, but that's only a problem if one is talking on the phone while entering or leaving the femtocell's range.
Things aren't perfect for the operator either: Vodafone's Sure Signal (currently the only UK femtocell offering) is still not as reliable as users might expect. Accepting connections from the public internet into the private cellular network has proved surprisingly complicated, and it seems that complexity has put O2 off the idea entirely, despite running lengthy trials.
But in the US, coverage is more of an issue, so femtocells are popping up everywhere. Spider Cloud, which provides femtocell technology for enterprise users, reckons rogue femtos are replacing Wi-Fi hotspots as the latest headache for systems administrators. Office workers are bringing in their own access points, and departments are buying off-the-shelf femtos, so even someone walking across the office can experience a failed handoff (a problem, needless to say, that Spider Cloud can solve).
Given the unexpected enthusiasm of customers to subsidise their own operators, femtocells are now part of a modern operators' deployment plans, and will be central to 4G rollouts - there are even plans to address the handoff issue, eventually. ®
they are USB femtocells :-)
why have a femtocell?
"Also, why have a femtocell if you had good coverage?"
Well, in howardforums, a bunch of these AT&T users got them because they had plenty of signal, but AT&T's oversold network gives garbled calls at like 3 bars, drops calls, and has glacial data speeds. Of course this means there's no "underused" spectrum in these areas to use, so the femtocells effectively add to the noise floor for everyone else.
"How long before someone brings out a slingbox/slingcatcher type of solution that lets you take your UK Voda femtocell to your Spanish/French/US holiday home and plug it into a box that tunnels the connection back to another box plugged into your UK broadband."
Probably never. The *existing* femtocells already would connect to your home network and provide non-roaming coverage. But femtocells use licensed spectrum, so they are required to get a GPS fix to know what frequencies they are permitted to use. They will not emit so much as a femtowatt without a GPS fix.
Regarding coverage -- US coverage is really not as bad as you may think --a lot of this perception comes from two big causes -- 1) People expecting to be able to buy service from the cheapest carriers and have coverage everywhere -- these carriers save money by not building out as robust of coverage (although they tend to improve it over time).. 2) GSM. People want a IPhone or N95 or whatever, or come to the US from abroad, and think the coverage they get is just how things are. It's not -- the GSM carriers in the US generally just don't have the coverage the CDMA carriers do. As an example on a trip south, in the 1000 mile trip I had continuous voice coverage and 950 miles of high-speed data coverage (with "1X" 144kbps data the other 50 miles).. Based on the coverage maps, if I had a GSM phone I would have had about 100 miles of high-speed data with the rest EDGE and even some GPRS, with numerous dead spots along the way. It's similar on a trip I took out east -- 950 miles of continuous high speed coverage, whereas with GSM service I'd have dozens of miles of dead zones, and been on 3G perhaps 10% of the time.
Skype doesn't let you keep your cellphone number, just using any of your family's cellphones as you would at home. It requires an app running on a PC or a smartphone. You have to pay for SkypeOut calls, which don't come out of your cellphone minutes. etc. etc.