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Femtocell Forum grows big – rebrands as Small

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The Femtocell Forum has changed its name to the Small Cell Forum, reflecting how the tech is migrating upwards, but also how femtos haven't yet set the world alight.

The organisation has been successful in uniting femtocell manufacturers, and around the world there are a scattering of deployments – most of which conform to the standards developed by the forum. But it's bigger cells which have made the greatest use of the technology designed to fit into the home, and that's what's prompted the change of title.

Femtocells are tiny mobile-phone base stations with a range of just a few metres. Designed to drop into the home, they connect back to the operator's network over the public internet, and fit themselves into the macro network by finding an available frequency in which to operate.

The idea was to create cells which could be plugged in and left to their own devices, so anyone can get one up and running, and largely it works. That makes the technology very attractive to network operators used to paying radio engineers to meticulously configure base stations, and has led to many of the capabilities being adopted into pico and micro cells, if not (yet) fully-fledged base stations.

The term small cells covers micro cells, picocells, femtocells and Wi-Fi.

It's not just the radio sensing which has proved popular, the ability to backhaul over contended connections is also becoming more important – and that's going to increase as more networks get deployed. All these intelligent base stations need standard interfaces to the network operator, which the Small Cell Forum is happy to provide, so doesn't want to be burdened with the "Femto" label.

Femtocells themselves have had limited success, and still suffer from problems in handing connections back and forth with the macro network (which is addressed in the LTE standard) and requiring gateways from the public internet to the operator's secure infrastructure (which LTE does not address).

But base stations are getting more intelligent, and the Small Cell Forum wants the world to know it's ready to standardise them, no doubt changing its name to the "Intelligent Cell Forum" in a few years when the capabilities arrive in the macro network. ®

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