back to article Femtocells outnumber proper mobe towers in US

America now has more femtocells than real cells, with 350,000 Americans now happily supplying free backhaul to their beloved network operators. That compares to 256,000 real base stations, according to the latest femtocell figures from Informa who expect US femtocells to hit half a million by next March as operators realise it …


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  1. Michael C

    Um, yea, bfd

    A single tower can host potentially thousands of concurrent calls. A Femtocell balks at more than 4. Also, at least with AT&T, those femtocells are locked down to only approved devices, and are not open to the public in general, but even on Verizon and Sprint, the range of the femtocell rarely penetrates the walls of the dwellign. (V advertises only 40 feet, ouch!)

    And that backhaul? In a large number of cases, that back haul is owned by them anyway. My AT&T cell is on an AT&T line... However, free? 1: the backhaul from towers are their own internal network lines. They don't pay carrier fees on them, only the cost of the physical cable and some power,and some routing muscle. the Femtocells? They may or may not be on their own networks, and incurr 3rd party carrier fees to cross communicate to other provider IP networks, eating external, not internal, bandwidth. Also, the back end equipment to handle those units (which are essentially VoIP extensions in their network), is a completely separate infrastructure, and extremely costly to both design, implement, and keep in sync with the real towers.

    Also, why have a femtocell if you had good coverage? What this meas is that 300,000 $50 femtocells are covering what is probably 500,000 underserved or not served at all homes. $15m to add 500,000 users? DEAL! (oh, yea, those users, most of them, paid $100-300 for that femtocell, so lets call it a profit party!) 3 or 4 towers can cost that to deploy, if not more. Are we really surprised this is popular with Providers for underserved areas? In served areas, the per-user cost of a femtocell likely exceeds the per-user cost of a node on a tower, all factors included, and that's why they're making efforts to restrict their use by GPS signal and mapping tools.

    1. Dino Saur

      Backhaul isn't always free, that's why

      Can't speak for AT&T mobile and AT&T fixed lines, but certainly in the UK there's a hell of a lot of leased lines used for mobile backhaul. One UK operator (guess who) is suggested to have less than 50% as it's own build, and a rough estimate puts backhaul transmission down as a quarter of the operating costs for each basestation using leased lines. So femto would make a lot of business sense for them - no landlord fees, no backhaul cost, no power cost.

      And some people are willing to pay to save you money!

      Regarding the 'backend equipment', known as the HNB Gateway for the 3G femto architecture, it actually looks like an RNC and interfaces to existing switch equipment through standard interfaces. Considering it can manage 10,000s of devices, the marginal cost per user is not that high. Don't know about any US variations e.g. CDMA versions.

  2. Steve John


    Orange offer UMA which routes calls over your home WiFi. They don't seem to shout about it though - I found out from a friend. I'd love to use it, have a dreadful signal at home but my Android handset doesn't support it.

  3. frank 3

    paying for a femtocell: massive ripoff

    You really are paying twice for soemthing they really should be doing as a matter of course.

  4. Tom Chiverton 1


    "workers are bringing in their own access points"

    And how do they get the MAC address added to the list authorised to get an IP and/or internet access ?

    1. Paul Kinsler


      they are USB femtocells :-)

  5. Dino Saur

    But let's look at this in perspective ...

    According to Wikipedia, there are 285 million subscribers in the US, and AT&T have about 25% of the market (if the interweb doesn't lie). 350,000 people have bought (or were given) a femto i.e. <<1%. That's in country with decent DSL (or similar) and with a reputation for poor coverage - 256,000 macro basestations to cover 3.5 million square miles, and it's still a poor ratio if you exclude the most unpopulated areas. (In the UK, there are about 10,000 sites to cover 50,000 square miles.)

    Femto is a lovely little idea, but really isn't that big a deal. As someone mentioned, they only support maybe four subscribers, so you'd need maybe 100 times as many femto to carry as much traffic as the macro basestations. Parity in numbers might be a selling point for the Femto Forum, but really it's meaningless.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Faraday Cages

    Since I live in one of them I don't have much choice. I have my iPhone and a couple of buddy's numbers in the cell and it works like a charm. Imagine. An iPhone with a whole five bars on it. The UK carriers might want to have a chat with AT&T as they seem to have it down to an art - speaking purely as a random punter who bought it, plugged it in, configured it over the web in three minutes flat and is ignorant of all the magic inside.

  7. dssf

    If those company computers are using rogue femtocells and actually doing work,

    Then those companies need to rejigger their login scripts and security policies to not only reject connections to non-corporate approved repeaters and mini router towers, and not just log them, but to also REPORT their existence.

  8. Doug Deeds
    Thumb Up


    I'll have to suggest this to a friend. He works at Nokia Siemens Networks Dallas and they have no AT&T coverage inside their building...

  9. NoDosh

    Another rural non-starter

    Voda offer femtocell. Relucatantly, as they are the only network offering coverage in my locality (and that's marginal) I make enquiries. "Yes sir, you only need 1Meg broadband and......"

    Right. I wish. About a 3rd of that on a good day.

    Would love them to sort the local cell but with three cows and a tractor passing through on a good day, it's not going to happen. Sadly neither is a broadband upgrade any time soon.

  10. Steve X


    How long before someone brings out a slingbox/slingcatcher type of solution that lets you take your UK Voda femtocell to your Spanish/French/US holiday home and plug it into a box that tunnels the connection back to another box plugged into your UK broadband. Instant home cellphone coverage, no roaming charges.

    1. NoDosh
      Paris Hilton


      Hey, I might just invent that. I'll call it Skype. Should catch on.

      Paris because you don't have a Cheryl Cole icon.

    2. NoDosh

      I'm going to invent that

      and call it Skype.

    3. Wize

      If you are going to that bother...

      ...might as well use something like Skype and break out of their network to a landline in the UK.

      They might notice your supersonic speed you travel to and from the UK when you enter your hotel room.

      1. Steve X

        Not Skype

        Skype doesn't let you keep your cellphone number, just using any of your family's cellphones as you would at home. It requires an app running on a PC or a smartphone. You have to pay for SkypeOut calls, which don't come out of your cellphone minutes. etc. etc.

  11. NoDosh

    @ Steve X

    Yarrr, think I'll invent that and maybe call it skype

    Pirates, cos they're all about stealing other people's stuff.

  12. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    why have a femtocell?

    "Also, why have a femtocell if you had good coverage?"

    Well, in howardforums, a bunch of these AT&T users got them because they had plenty of signal, but AT&T's oversold network gives garbled calls at like 3 bars, drops calls, and has glacial data speeds. Of course this means there's no "underused" spectrum in these areas to use, so the femtocells effectively add to the noise floor for everyone else.

    "How long before someone brings out a slingbox/slingcatcher type of solution that lets you take your UK Voda femtocell to your Spanish/French/US holiday home and plug it into a box that tunnels the connection back to another box plugged into your UK broadband."

    Probably never. The *existing* femtocells already would connect to your home network and provide non-roaming coverage. But femtocells use licensed spectrum, so they are required to get a GPS fix to know what frequencies they are permitted to use. They will not emit so much as a femtowatt without a GPS fix.

    Regarding coverage -- US coverage is really not as bad as you may think --a lot of this perception comes from two big causes -- 1) People expecting to be able to buy service from the cheapest carriers and have coverage everywhere -- these carriers save money by not building out as robust of coverage (although they tend to improve it over time).. 2) GSM. People want a IPhone or N95 or whatever, or come to the US from abroad, and think the coverage they get is just how things are. It's not -- the GSM carriers in the US generally just don't have the coverage the CDMA carriers do. As an example on a trip south, in the 1000 mile trip I had continuous voice coverage and 950 miles of high-speed data coverage (with "1X" 144kbps data the other 50 miles).. Based on the coverage maps, if I had a GSM phone I would have had about 100 miles of high-speed data with the rest EDGE and even some GPRS, with numerous dead spots along the way. It's similar on a trip I took out east -- 950 miles of continuous high speed coverage, whereas with GSM service I'd have dozens of miles of dead zones, and been on 3G perhaps 10% of the time.

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