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Femtocells: A boon to wireless capacity

Posted: 05 Dec 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:femtocell  mobile operator networks  CDMA 

Data traffic is overwhelming mobile operator's networks. Projections from major operators confirm this trend, with recent reports ranging from data capacity doubling every 3 months (KT/Korea) to 12 months (Vodafone).

If we project these sustained rates of data growth to future mobile network capacity, the current network capacity will represent less than 10 per cent of what is needed by 2016. Future network deployments will, in fact, be handling the vast majority of data capacity requirements for mobile network operators. If we were to scale today's mobile network architectures to handle this tsunami of data, the cost to deploy would be too high. Future mobile network architecture therefore needs to change, by not only scaling to handle the much higher data loads, but also by scaling cost effectively so that mobile operators can afford to deploy it.

Why Femtocells?
They deliver on the promise of providing the next leap in performance for wireless networks by bringing cell sites closer together, providing coverage, capacity and service delivery platform to subscribers. To realise this vision the industry has had to address the challenges of interference mitigation and mobility requirements from operators and subscribers. But to make this transition, what are the issues that this technology faces? What innovations need to take place? How will they alter the topology of mobile networks and, what will this landscape look like when the roll out of femtocells reaches its apogee?

It is the rapidly rising rate of mobile data which has propelled the development and deployment of femtocells. By 2014, monthly worldwide mobile data traffic will exceed the total for 2008. The pattern of usage has equally inspired this technology with 70 per cent of all mobile use in 2008 done whilst at home or in the office. But the most important factor today impacting mobile broadband performance and use is coverage, particularly in rural areas, and the differences between the performances of operators' 3G networks. The mass deployment of femtocells should solve this problem resulting in ubiquitous coverage, indoors and out, with faster connection and download speeds.

For operators, the key advantage of femtocells is that they are able to offload resource-intensive over-the-air data traffic onto an IP backbone, reducing both capital (less macro sites) and operational (less backhaul costs) expenditures while creating a branded operator point of presence in either the home or the work environment. As femtocells increase signal strength and provide excellent coverage indoors, they also contribute to a better user experience, with improved coverage/peak data rates and quality of service. As mobile users are offloaded to femtocells, data traffic load and signalling load on the macrocell reduces.

Femtocell board

A femtocell board designed around one of Qualcomm's chips.

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