Femtocell FAQ: Time for a 'personal mobile phone tower'?

Mobile service miracle or mirage? We answer 18 burning questions about femtocell technology.

Are you one of those unlucky souls who enjoys decent mobile phone reception when you're out and about, but can't get a signal at home or in the office? You're not alone. Indoor phone calls have long been a weak point of cellular coverage.

That's why femtocell technology has created such a stir over the past year or so, as the idea of using a device like a broadband router to boost cellular reception indoors has seemed to be on the verge of materializing. Analysts and the media speculated that consumers would see a flood of such devices, known as femtocells, by the end of 2008.

Now, however, that timeline has shifted to late 2009 or 2010 as a number of questions surrounding femtocells remain unanswered. In fact, only Sprint Nextel is currently offering a commercial femtocell product in the US.

This gap between the initial hype and the eventual introduction of femtocells has one advantage, however: It gives consumers a chance to learn more about the technology, including its benefits and drawbacks.

What are femtocells?

The term "femtocell" refers to the smallest unit of a cellular network and, by extension, the devices and services that make use of them. Other small -- but not quite as small -- cells include Wi-Fi cells (a.k.a. microcells) and Bluetooth cells (picocells). At the other end of the spectrum are macrocells, such as those used in carriers' mobile phone towers.

What do they do?

Femtocells address the problem of poor mobile phone reception indoors by taking advantage of the proliferation of home and small office broadband connections. Like the wireless router that distributes a DSL or cable broadband signal throughout your home, a femtocell device -- sometimes called a miniature cellular base station or a mini-cell tower -- grabs your carrier's cellular signal and boosts it for indoor use, routing your calls through the broadband connection rather than directly through the larger cellular network.

What are the benefits?

Subscribers get a stronger, clearer, more reliable signal at home -- which means more users may finally be able to ditch their landline phone service for good. Carriers benefit by being able to offload traffic from their main networks, saving the substantial cost of building more towers.

How far do they reach?

Femtocells have a range of around 5,000 square feet.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags femtocells

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ed Sutherland

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?