Fixed-line telephones, or land lines, once the mainstay of business and personal communications have been upstaged in recent years by mobile phones. Mobile phones offer much more functionality than their fixed-line counterparts – like text and instant messaging, go anywhere convenience and capabilities like cameras and being able to use them as your personal theater. Many are ditching their home phones in favor of mobile-only homes.
Fixed lines do have some advantages: calls are cheaper, more reliable, and clearer. You also don’t have to stand next to some large window to get a good signal and fixed lines often work in places a mobile phone can’t even get a signal.
But what does a fixed-line have to do with your 4G phone or 4G network? Wireless providers have had to direct voice and data traffic to separate networks to cope with the explosion in data traffic from consumers’ smart phones. A simple example of offloading data traffic is where a smart phone switches to using an available wireless network via WiFi for internet traffic whenever a WiFi network comes in range.
Network operators are hoping a new technology called femtocells, help them offload enough traffic to ease pressure on them to expand. The primary benefit of a femtocell is that it provides wireless coverage in places a mobile phone could only dream of getting a signal – primarily indoor locations. Wireless carriers hope this one benefit, which helps to make users’ mobile phones that much more useful, will persuade users to setup femtocells wherever they need them thereby offloading a lot of network traffic.
Femtocells are tiny wireless base-stations which can plug into a fixed-line broadband connection to route calls, yet can be used with existing 4G phones. Locate a femtocell in your basement or a corner of your office that has poor wireless reception and, in a few minutes, people will delight at the 5-bar signal they see and can use on their mobile phone. Femtocells are sometimes referred to as wireless extenders.
Femto is the metric prefix for quadrillions of units. In this case, a femtocell refers to its tiny size, and low power consumption even though it is essentially a full-fledged cellular radio tower. Hooked up to a broadband DSL (phone line) or cable connection a femtocell provides excellent indoor coverage while allowing users to make cheaper calls. As the user moves outdoors, the call gets handed over to the wireless provider’s mobile phone network. All of this happens transparently to the user whom probably won’t even notice a difference.
Users can secure their femtocell so that only certain phone numbers can use it for data and voice communications. Users can administer their femtocell using a browser-based interface and have things up an running in minutes after turning on the femtocell.
Femtocells can help to reduce load on network operators’ infrastructure thereby reducing the need to build more radio towers. Network operators will also be able to add more subscribers and introduce ultra-high-speed service. A femtocell in the home also offers network providers a more direct foothold in users’ homes where most mobile phone services are consumed.
Femtocells can also help users reduce roaming costs – a user could take along a femtocell on a trip and have it connect to a local WiFi network. The user could then use their regular cell phone to make calls that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive or not even possible in places where network operators don’t provide compatible services.
Femtocells are available from major network operators like Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon. Check with your provider for current pricing and features.
Femtocells could change the way we consume 4G voice and data in places we could not even get service. Femtocells might also help consumers save on their monthly mobile bills by possibly cutting or eliminating roaming charges and charges for extra minutes.