Cellular hotspot

Date:26 October 2012 Tags:,

Q I’ve been complaining about my cell reception for years. I believe that a device called a femtocell can help. Can you explain?

A A femtocell is essentially a small cellular base station. When deployed by a cell-service provider, it acts like a mini cell tower, routing calls and phone data over a landline broadband connection (the broadband provides the “backhaul” – the link between the femtocell and the phone and data networks). The bad news is that femtocells are not yet available locally.

Although the femtocell solves one particular problem, it doesn’t solve the larger issue of cellular dead zones. In the past decade, says New York University professor of electrical and computer engineering, Sundeep Rangan, service providers have focused more on building new operator-installed cells than on giving out femtocells. But because these cells are limited, and data use per person is climbing, companies are struggling to keep up, hence the need for femtocells.

If deployed properly – and if customers are willing to shell out the cost of about R1 500 for a unit – a femtocell could be a good solution for the individual, by providing better reception, and for all cellphone users, by taking a bit of the burden off the overall network.

“The question,” Rangan says, “is whether companies can get enough incentive for customers to use them,” thereby opening up space on regular cellphone towers. And, he adds, “if people deploy femtocells, operators won’t have to supply the backhaul connections to them, and they don’t have to maintain them either,” thus relieving some of the constant pressure for  providers to build more towers to support their growing user bases. In other words, though femtocells would benefit everyone – easing the burden on providers and giving customers better service – the technology has yet to catch on in the mainstream.

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