Working with the Next-Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance, the Femto Forum is looking to carve a niche for femtocells in 4G network architecture that the forum says will help carriers better plan their spectrum use and to help optimize their network coverage. Essentially, femtocells act as "mini-cell towers" that provide short-range coverage for wireless cellular devices by receiving their cellular signals and routing them through broadband connections. Thus, femtocells can help carriers cut down on subscribers' spectrum use by essentially converting cellular traffic into VoIP traffic.
"Femtocells can transform how next-generation mobile networks can be deployed," says Femto Forum chairman Simon Saunders. "For example, femtocells could be deployed using higher frequencies to deliver targeted, intense high-bandwidth requirements inside buildings. . . . This is expected to enable operators to use the scarce lower-frequency spectrum to provide good coverage across entire markets with the minimum number of macro cells."
Femtocells are just one form of technology that carriers and technology companies are investing in to reduce traffic over cellular networks. Earlier this week, T-Mobile unveiled its new @Home service in the US that uses a T-Mobile wireless router to send landline voice traffic through home broadband connections for US$10 a month. T-Mobile also offers a Hotspot @Home service that allows customers with Wi-Fi-capable devices to route voice traffic through their home Wi-Fi connections.
Last year, Sprint became the first US carrier to roll out femtocells on a trial basis by offering its Airave devices to customers in Denver and Indianapolis. Currently, Sprint offers its Airave device for US$50, and charges customers a flat monthly rate of $15 for individual plans and $30 for family plans.