29 March 2008

Femto Cells

(via Lunch over IP)

There's Wi-Fi, there's Bluetooth, and there's now femto cells. Femto cells are a (currently rare) form of cell phone enhancement, in which a cell phone subscriber can receive a home "tower" to enhance reception (and possibly supply 3G services). As of this writing, Sprint has the only femto cell service in the nation, in Colorado.

The name is taken from the term for 10-15, or one quadrillionth. (The sequence is milli [10-3], micro [10-6], nano [10-9], pico [10-12], femto [10-15], and atto [10-18].) This corresponds to the various sizes of transmission cell:

Femto cells piggyback on broadband connections, are relatively inexpensive, and form a distributed high capacity network. Moreover, femto cells can provide coverage where ordinary cells cannot, in highly populated areas where propagation issues are a concern.

We can safely assume the main application of femto cells in North America will be to upgrade the primitive network to some form of European-style 3G functionality. But so far, the technology has been implemented slowly, probably because the initiative has to be taken by the phone user. Also, when your PCS provider advertises femto cells, there's a good chance users will wonder why they have to pay a premium for the basic level of service that subscribers could reasonably expect.

Sources & Additional Reading

Dimitris Mavrakis, "Do we really need femto cells?" Vision Mobile Blog (1 Dec 2008)

Ed Sutherland, "Femtocell FAQ: Is it time for your own 'personal cell-phone tower'?" Computerworld (November 2008)

"Femto Cells: Personal Base Stations" , Airvana (July 2007)

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