March of the femtocells

, posted: 16-Jul-2007 20:52

Providing good coverage for mobile phone service is an expensive exercise for cellular telcos for many reasons. Frequency allocations are often stingy, it's hard to obtain consents to build cellular transmission sites, and organising sufficient data backhaul to them can be problematic, especially in countries like New Zealand where you have only a few backbone providers to choose from - they have no interest in competing with one another, so prices stay high.

Under those circumstances, it's easy to see why for instance 3G broadband just isn't a viable alternative to fixed-line network connections.

To get around this capacity constraint, mobile providers like Vodafone New Zealand intend to piggyback on existing fixed-line broadband connections. The devices for that is called femtocells which is yet another strange mobile telco term, or access point base station as they appear to be called too.

A femtocell is basically a small, cellular base station that you put in your house or office, hook up to a broadband connection and then have mobile coverage there. They're cheap - Vodafone NZ is talking about $150 - and mean you can use your mobile pretty much as a normal landline phone wherever there's broadband.

With "naked DSL" coming up in September in New Zealand, expensive as Telecom promises to make it, femtos could actually be more interesting for people than SIP-based Voice over IP. If you can get away with just one phone number instead of two, then... why not?

It'll be interesting to see how well femtos work here. In theory, they should work fine over DSL, as long as the upstream speed is OK. I'd like to know if the femtos have enough smarts to somehow switch over to the standard access point when the broadband connection clogs up and if it'll be possible to punt 3G data over them.
Also, Vodafone should not charge the same per-minute rates for calls going over femtos as it does for standard access point ones. They should be a great deal cheaper.

I'm not sure if Telecom's thinking femtos too. They seem to have gone into minimal communications mode for some reason, a throwback to the bad old days of mistrust and silliness. There's probably no equivalent technology for CDMA 2000 anyway.

Other related posts:
TDD vs FDD for LTE
Huawei TDD LTE demo aboard the Shanghai MagLev train
Apropos that new Telecom logo

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