Feature Article

February 11, 2009

Femtocells: Just a Buzzword?

In-Stat recently released a study, as reported by TMC, indicating that Femtocells, though appearing beneficial, have are yet to be established in the market.
Before going ahead, here is a brief introduction to Femtocells.
This is what a Femtocell looks like:

It’s a transceiver that is connected to a wired network (Internet broadband), facilitates wireless digital interaction for mobile communication devices, and it’s designed is to improve signal quality.
Visually it looks like a wireless router. Functionally it works as a VoIP noise suppressor and transmission booster. Compatibility-wise it is supposed to work with either CDMA 2000 or WiMAX or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System devices. Design wise it supports between 5 to 100 mobiles, officials say and it was first created by a Motorola development team, called the AFG, in 2002.
A conceptual Femtocell projects a rosy picture – small, low-cost, plug-in for the home and small office environment. Deeper analysis, however, reveals a gap that tells us two things. Development is still going on and, in these early versions, it is not yet fully competitive.
The gaps become clear once the Femtocell is benchmarked against existing technologies such as System Initiation Protocol and UMA. “SIP,” as its known, is a set of rules and programming methods to initiate, re-sculpt, and end a session in the application layer of the TCP/IP model. It is ideally suited for multimedia and VoIP applications and sends packets either to single of multiple destinations. 
SIP has a clutch of security software and works comfortably only once integrated with other multimedia architecture such as RTP, RTSP, MEGACO, PSTN and SDP. It is suitable for Wi-Fi, AV conferencing and Wideband IP telephony.
Unlicensed Mobile Access is also known as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project General Access Network. It allows digital voice, data and IP Multimedia Subsystem/SIP exchanges over IP networks. The collaborative nature builds easy switch over between WLAN, GSM, GPRS, CDMA and UTMS. UMA / 3GPP GAN operate in an open spectrum. Since FCC approval is awaited, it is considered unlicensed.
SIP, UMA and Femtocells utilize broadband networks in different ways. On this score alone, all three are on an equal platform since broadband is currently the preferred medium, as reported by TMC.
The gaps appear when comparing a Femtocell with an innovation that combines a Wi-Fi Access Point with UMA.
First, a WAP’s cost one third less than Femtos. They’re also available off the shelf in electronic stores. Femtos are sold through service providers, and pose no macro network interference. WAP’s support HSPA, LTE, GSM, and UMTS networks and handsets, whereas Femtos currently only support UMTS, and, unlike Femtos, WAPs are unaffected tower proximity interference.
Also, WAPs can be moved to any broadband network on this planet since operability is in the open spectrum, whereas Femtos are dependent on licensed spectrums and thus handicapped. Finally, WAPs’ open characteristics do not require regulatory monitoring and hence permit direct working with any broadband network. Femtos sometimes require data rerouting via service providers networks due to a few countries regulations
Such quantifiable comparisons are unfortunately keeping Femtocells still only in buzzword mode.

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Vivek Naik is a contributing editor for MobilityTechzone. To read more of Vivek's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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