Femtocells Make Their Move

Carl Weinschenk

The benefits of femtocells have long been clear: These devices, which in essence are small base stations that sit at the customer's home or office, increase network coverage and transfer traffic from expensive cellular networks to the Internet.


Femtocells are a big investment, however, and it has taken the industry a long time to get rolling. Now, however, the move to femtocells seems well under way. Blogger Harish Vadada offers his assessment that "the tide finally seems to be turning" for femtocells and offers an update on where four carriers-Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile-are on the technology.


There has been significant news this month in the femtocell world. Engadget reported last week that Sprint seems close to releasing what it calls an upgraded Airwaves femtocell from vendor Airvana. The femto is said to support Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) protocol and to support six calls simultaneously and a VoIP landline connection. The short post is unclear on when it will be available.

Ed Hansberry at InformationWeek provides a bit more context. Sprint's earlier model was released in 2008, and the newer version only are available for to folks with poor reception, though Hansberry isn't sure how that is determined. It is free to those folks, though it is to be returned to Sprint if the subscriber leaves. He outlines AT&T's approach, which doesn't seem as appealing: The 3G Microcell, which is femtocell-based, costs between $50 and $150 and has a $20 service fee. Both the AT&T and Sprint devices count traffic through the device against monthly plan limits.


Mobile Business Briefs also noted the increase in action in the 3G femtocell arena. The site referred to an item at Light Reading Mobile pointing to a Verizon Wireless job posting related to an in-building initiative that emphasized the importance of 3G femtos. Mobile Business Briefs also noted a recent Dell'Oro Group study that said 1 million femtocells will ship next year. That number will balloon to 62 million in 2014.


Earlier this month, Skyworks Solutions said that Samsung will use semiconductor products in its offerings, including Verizon's Wireless Network Extender. The Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) product can simultaneously handle three calls, while keeping a fourth channel reserved for E911 traffic.

Femtocells clearly have a technology case. It seems that the business case finally is emerging as well.

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