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Femtocells - An instant solution for poor indoor cellphone coverage

Poor cellphone coverage at home may become a thing of the past - thanks to a new technology called femtocells. These compact units are the size of a paperback book, yet contain most of the complex functionality of a full sized mobile phone cellsite.† Self-installing, they are compatible with existing mobile phones offering great service and low call rates using the same procedures to make or receive calls.

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Do you live in an area of poor cellphone coverage, where callers are difficult to understand or lose the connection completely? Or do you want to use your laptop wirelessly, and want a high speed connection that works anywhere but is also secure?

Femtocells are fully featured but very low power mobile phone basestations, connected using standard broadband DSL or cable service into the mobile operator's network. They offer excellent mobile phone coverage at home for both voice and data, but at lower cost than outdoor service.

The femtocells themselves look very much like WiFi broadband modems, and some vendors have incorporated all three features into a single box (WiFi, DSL and Mobile).

Unlike WiFi, these devices use licensed radio spectrum, so must be operated and controlled by a mobile network operator. Therefore femtocells will work with only one mobile phone operator, encouraging all users in a household to switch to the same network operator.

When in range of the femtocell at home, the mobile phone will automatically detect it and use it in preference to the outdoor cellsites. Calls are made and received in exactly the same way as before, except that the signals are sent encrypted from the femtocell via the broadband IP network to one of the mobile operatorís main switching centres.

Making and receiving calls uses the same procedures and telephone numbers, and all the standard features (call divert, text messaging, web browsing) are available in the same way - indeed data services should operate more quickly and efficiently due to the short range involved.

Femtocells operate at very low radio power levels - less than cordless phones, WiFi or many other types of household equipment. This substantially increases the battery life, both on standby and talktime. Units can handle up to 3 or 4 simultaneous calls from different users depending on the model.

Restrictions can be applied on who can use the femtocell service. In extreme cases, there may be additional charges for DSL broadband supplier where a quota applies - however this would equate to many long voice calls or data service. Thus, while operators will hope that most femtocell users are willing to provide open access to other users, they usually offer the facility to restrict service to a list of up to 50 specified telephone numbers.

The femtocell encrypts all voice and data sent and received from mobile phones and would normally not allow access to the home computer network, so external users cannot break into your computer.

In order to reduce cost, these units are self installing and use a variety of clever tricks to sense which frequency to transmit on and power level to use.

They are compatible with existing standard mobile phones, although in future some minor enhancements will improve performance. Future mobile phones will display when the phone is using the local femtocell (and thus using a free call allowance) - currently this can be provided by tones at the start of each call.

Models have been developed for both of the major 3G cellphone technologies, which include the ability for high speed data services. Many network operators are testing and trialling these systems, wanting to ensure there is no adverse impact on the existing service.

In the coming years as the technology matures, costs decline and benefits are appreciatedFree Reprint Articles, we can expect to see growing adoption of femtocells in many countries.

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David Chambers is a seasoned telecommunications expert who has over 20 years experience working in design, standards, product management and marketing of telecom products, mainly for mobile phone networks. An independent authority on femtocells, David is also author of the world's first book on femtocells, Femtocell Primer. Find out more technology news, views and information at

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