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October 28, 2015

Rethinking the 'Smoke and Mirrors' of Femtocells

If you have read me over the years, you know that I have been critical of femtocell companies and their industrial efforts to come of age. (For the uninitiated, a femtocell is a wireless access point that improves cellular reception inside a home or office building.)

At their inception, they have been a standalone in a bundled world and many times, I have called out discrepancies in the business model. Like Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump advocating that Mexicans pay for the building of a border wall, having customers pay extra for better home service seemed an admission of failure and unwillingness to accept reality. The latest version of this comes with 5G terminology like beam forming.

However, in the past, I have gotten the femtocell from the carrier on the grounds that their service needed support. Both times I had tried that, I found that the femtocell placed at the demarcation point had the problem of being too far from a window. The result was an ugly antenna wire strewn across my walls, coupled with still-crappy reception.

The demarcation had been in the guest bedroom, and from a wireless device perspective it was like an elephant graveyard with Wi-Fi and femtocells.

But last week I moved my demarcation point, because the Wi-Fi also had signal loss down a thirty-foot hallway. In theory, this was not a big deal. But I had Comcast place the demarcation in the living room. And the only spot that made sense to place everything was on top of the secretary. 

As I chucked the remains of various devices, I decided to give the femtocell one more try and placed it on top with the other hardware.

Remarkably not only did it succeed, but now my home had five bars on the microcell throughout the house.

Now in theory, the living room was a lousy place to be, because it had fewer windows which it made up for by having a wall of mirrored glass. This is typical of small homes looking to give the impression of space.

Checking with my RF friends they confirmed that the mirrored wall was the answer as to why my femtocell was now working.

Bottom line: I still think a lot of the 5G beam-forming discussions sound like the smoke of a politician trying to win my vote, but when it comes to mirrors from now on, I will believe.

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