With the explosion of the Internet connected devices, such as smartphones or tablets, the demand of higher data rates in wireless networks is increasing day by day. Consumers are increasingly sensitive to coverage for both voice and data, especially at home and in the office. Operators need to meet this demand quickly and at a reduced cost-per-bit, which is the main motivation of the femtocell technology
What is a femtocell?
A femtocell, also called home base station, is a low-power access point which is basically used to provide coverage and capacity in home and office environments. The femtocell is a small device connected to the service provider via broadband network (ADSL or cable) and supports simultaneous voice conversations and data services.
When the mobile phone is under the coverage of the femtocell, it switches over from the macrocell to the femtocell automatically. Then, the user has the same services but the connection comes from ADSL.
Despite there are different standards and technologies, all broadly conform to an architecture with three major elements:
- femtocell acces point: connects to the mobile operator network via broadband network.
- femtocell gateway: aggregates the traffic from different femtocells.
- femtocell management system & security: manages different home base stations.
For a mobile operator, the attractions of a femtocell are improvements such as:
- Better coverage and capacity because of the short distance between the transmitter (femtocell access point) and the receiver (mobile phone).
- Improved macrocell reliability: traffic originating indoors can be absorbed into femtocell networks and the macrocell can redirect its resources.
- Cost benefits: reduced operating and capital expenditure costs for operators.
Moreover, the femtocell provides to the user:
- Better quality voice and high-speed data services, such as video streaming.
- Security mechanism and protocols.
- Prolong handset battery live because of the lower transmit power.
Deployment of femtocells
Several organizations are working to standardize femtocells technology: 3GPP, Broadband Forum, Femto Forum and Next Generation Mobile Network. The initial priority for standardization efforts was focused on 3G technologies, but nowadays the data rates are still lower than WiFi and that is why the deployment is lower than the operators commitment.
However, with LTE and 4G systems, which are designed to integrate femtocells in their architecture providing higher data rates, QoS and security (better than WiFi), femtocells are going to change the landscape of mobile technology and networking business in the coming years.