A Femtocell is the smallest type of small cell used to expand cellular network connectivity within a targeted geographic area (typically a small, single location). In addition to being the smallest in the family of small cell technologies, Femtocells also use the lease amount of power; and, as such, they don’t offer as much of an impact when attempting to expand network connectivity. In fact, compared to other types of small cells, like picocells and microcells, femtocells offer the least amount of additional bandwidth, so they should only be deployed in specific situations.
Femtocell technology is integrated into cellular networks in nearly the same way that all the other small cell systems are utilized, but its main advantage is that it does not require a centralized hub, which is required by other network solutions, like Distributed Antenna Systems. Typically, Femtocells are implemented in locations where there is existing network backhaul, or within a location where backhaul can be developed without too much difficulty or capital investment.
Why Choose A Femtocell Network?
Despite having limited capacity, Femtocells have certain advantages over other small cell devices that benefit both the home user and businesses alike.
Because of their low powered nature, Femtocell implementation is less expensive than its counterparts, and in some situations, can provide mobile users with better cellular connectivity.
Femtocell for the Home
For the consumer, Femtocells can be used to transform an already existing internet connection into useable cellular service. It may sound counter-intuitive, but there are many people in the United States who have access to high-speed broadband but who are unable to make phone calls from anywhere inside their home, and for people facing that situation, femtocell technology may be their best option.
Here’s why: Femtocells operate like a tiny cellular base station, literally tiny, at about the size of a cordless phone’s base station, and can be easily attached to your home internet network modem. The Femtocell then transforms your home broadband connection into a usable cellular signal that can be used to make phone calls and send and receive SMS text messages.
In a scenario like this, a femtocell system may be the absolute best option, especially for consumers who are unable to utilize Wi-Fi calling with their current contacts and cellular provider. Most individuals, especially those who run a small business from their home, still require a reliable cellular signal in order to handle their affairs, and a Femtocell network can provide 5 bar connectivity from anywhere within the home.
Unfortunately, this cellular connectivity does come at a cost. Because the Femtocell uses the existing broadband to create the cellular signal, there can be a noticeable loss of broadband speed in certain situations where phone calls and web browsing (especially uploading or downloading) behavior is occurring simultaneously. However, if your home office broadband connection is currently 50 Mbps or faster, then your internet connection should remain perfectly steady, even if you decide to use both at the same time.
Femtocells tor Business and Office Space
Obtaining a clear cellular signal through the layers of glass and drywall that comprise the office or business space can be a challenge, especially in buildings that feature “green” windows that are specially coated to be reflective. Fortunately, femtocell networks are fully capable of helping out in situations like these.
Just like they’re used for applications in the home, Femtocell architecture is fully capable of hooking into an office’s existing broadband network to provide cellular service to everyone inside. If the office’s internet backhaul is extensive enough, several Femtocells can even be strategically placed around the office in order to provide expanded network coverage.
And again, because Femtocell technology can be deployed at a fraction of the price of larger small cell systems, Femtocell networks make perfect sense for small businesses operating on limited budgets, especially when coverage is only required for a small space, or a limited number of individuals.
Even though Femtocell network range and capacity are relatively limited, it’s their low powered nature that often makes them the small cell of choice. Before deployment of a small cell network begins, the targeted space must be analyzed for certain limiting factors that might cause interference to the network signal, and the result of this analysis often limits the use of larger small cell technologies due to the potential for signal interference.
For all small cell systems, there is a “shadowing effect” with the signal that must be taken into consideration when designing the small cell network. For some small cells, such as microcells, the broadcasted signal is strong enough that if placed too close to another transmitting microcell, the two signals can interfere with one another and cause signal degradation.
This shadowing effect can cause serious problems for the targeted location if it just so happens to be filled with signal interfering obstacles. For example, let’s say your office space is arranged in such a manner that there is a combination of cubicles and smaller enclosed spaces used for meetings. These areas are separated by glass, concrete, and other building materials that can disrupt the traveling signal of the microcell.
And what’s worse is that sometimes adding additional microcells to the office will only cause the signal to degrade further, but here’s where Femtocells truly shine. Because of its tiny footprint, Femtocell architecture allows for the placement of multiple antennas around the space, providing the necessary network connectivity without disrupting the Femtocell network signal and simultaneously negating the effects of interfering obstacles.
In this scenario, Femtocells can be strategically placed near and around the cubicles, as well as inside each enclosed meeting room in order to provide a stable cellular connection, and avoiding the shadow effect.
Although Femtocell implementation makes sense in certain spaces, such as in the home and in the office, there is a risk that the signal can suffer from interference from larger macrocell networks. If a Femtocell network is designed within the scope of a macrocell network, it’s possible that the Femtocell network can become disrupted and become unstable.
However, this interference can be mitigated with the placement of additional Femtocell antennas, since adding more antennas will strengthen the Femtocell’s mini cellular signal within the larger macrocell network.
Opportunities for Property Owners
In some situations, especially in tightly congested urban settings, cellular providers have no choice but to resort to Femtocells for expanding their network connectivity, even if each Femtocell can only support a handful of users at a time.
Besides the home and office, you’ll typically find Femtocells implemented in locations such as small coffee shops, libraries, and on the rooftops of some apartment buildings where there is a need for additional cellular connectivity.
As such, cellular providers in certain situations will need to lease property in order to develop these small cell sites for the placement of Femtocell architecture. These Femtocell leases can provide property owners with substantial rental fees.
The Future of Femtocell Technology
For smaller locations, or locations that feature many signal obstructing obstacles, Femtocell technology will continue to be a popular network solution. Their low cost, low powered nature makes them an attractive alternative to other larger, costlier small cell solutions, especially when the need for network connectivity only covers a few individual users at any given time.
However, for the casual consumer at home, the future of Femtocells is not quite as secure. Even though Femtocell networks are small, low-powered, and easy to deploy, cellular providers are rapidly adopting the capability of offering Wi-Fi calling, which directly competes with Femtocell capabilities. Also, as popular messaging applications move more users away from traditional SMS text messaging, the need for a reliable cellular connection in the home is likely to continue to decrease in priority.
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