back to article Big cell towers now outnumbered by briefcase-sized jobs

There are now more small cells than bigger 'macro' base stations, with the vast majority located in users' homes but an increasing number rented out to network operators wanting coverage. Globally there are a shade under six million cellular base stations as we'd recognise them, according to Informa Telecoms and Media, but …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get one at home?

    Who are they kidding.

    With the increasing litigation against 'suspected downloaders' it is a good way to get sued/prosecuted.

    I am sure some evil lawyer will make the case for you to be liable for ALL traffic that get passed over the mini cell that you are hosting. You aren't EE, O2, vodafone etc who have a phalanx of lawyers to help them.

    The spooks will be watching you as well.

    And I'd expect that the bandwidth will come out out your ISP's quota. Oh, there are so many problems waiting to bit you financially.

    anon for obvious reasons...

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Get one at home?

      The home pico-cells are actually locked down to only provide service to you anyway. They are literally that small that you load the numbers of your own phones into them and only those can connect. No security issue whatsoever.

      The larger cells discussed are not "home use" at all - they are phone-company devices with land-leases, direct connectivity (no piggybacking on a private line etc.) and full responsibility handed to the phone company.

      The article merges the two for reasons unknown.

      That said, I'd kill for a decent picocell on the Virgin network at the moment - I have terrible reception in my new house and will gladly sacrifice some TINY Internet bandwidth (9600bps for plain GSM!) for the fraction of the day when I need mobile reception. Sure, I could use my Wifi, but that doesn't provide me with mobile reception which is what I need, without having to jump through VOIP hoops, number forwarding, etc.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Get one at home?

        I have to tether my blackberry to my wi-fi network which then connects to an Orange UMA server, albeit intermittantly , it does the job since I get zero bars where I live.

        The only problem is that my wife's phone isn't compatable. which sucks. so something like one of these pico cells would be a good idea for me.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Get one at home?

        Yeah, the Vodafone SureSignal is good but it just doesn't get on with Virgin broadband, does it? Voice sounds fine incoming but you sound like an underwater dalek to the poor sod on the other end. And weirdly, if I put the same SureSignal box on a BT DSL connection (with much worse latency and a fraction of the bandwidth), it works *perfectly.*

    2. John Sager

      Re: Get one at home?

      "With the increasing litigation against 'suspected downloaders' it is a good way to get sued/prosecuted."

      Don't be silly. I've had a Voda box for a few years now. It uses a IPSec ESP tunnel to backhaul the traffic, and I, as the owner, need to register other people's phones onto the box before they can use it. That shouldn't be too hard to argue issues of responsibility in court, if it ever got there, even with judges' notorious lack of tech awareness.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Get one at home?

        Actually the fact that you are registering the phones does create some degree of legal liability for you, if only for the act of registering them.

        If the box just DHCP'ed, connected back to the mobile operator via a preconfigured encrypted VPN, and then accepted any phone in range, then you'd be acting as a carrier (for encrypted traffic that you can't even read) and all liability would be back with the mobile operator who could remote-control "your" (their!) femtocell.

        I don't know if one can get a plug-in-and-forget box such as I've described above. I can think of a few basements where a cheap box of this nature would be very welcome!

  2. rurwin

    So they will be paying you then?

    One might assume that if the phone company is using my infrastructure to carry calls that they might pay me for the traffic. One might assume that they would pay rent for the right to site their equipment on my premises. One might even assume that call costs would be lower when almost none of Vodafone's expensive infrastructure is being used to route them.

    But of course one would be wrong; you wont even get a thank-you. If you are lucky, they wont charge you extra for the honour of using your own money to fill the holes in their coverage. No wonder they are cutting back on building real cell-towers, which cost huge amounts in PR, construction, maintenance, site rent, insurance, power and connectivity, when they can dupe the punters into providing the same thing free of charge.

    1. Nigel 11
      Thumb Down

      Re: So they will be paying you then?

      Ever heard of the common good?

      It might be a good idea for the mobile company to offer you a femtocell in exchange for a refundable deposit. On the other hand if it costs £50, I'd happily pay that for my convenience, and extend the convenience to anyone else with a phone in or very close to my premises. Administering a refundable £50 deposit might actually cost more.

      Doing so for phone calls and texts has effectively zero cost. A phone call is 24 kbit/sec before compression, compared to 2 Mbit/sec on the poxiest of broadbands. A data throttle on "my" cell would be appreciated, so my internet doesn't get flooded by people downloading movies to their smartphones.

  3. chipxtreme

    I've got one on 3 as I get no coverage where I live and I had to pay £50 for the box, but then again i'm only on the £6.90 sim only plan and the £50.50 I get from Topcashback will of paid for the box so i'm happy.

    I asked about what happens to my data allowance when i'm connected to the box that uses my broadband connection and they said as it still routes through 3's servers then it still comes out of my allowance so i'll still be doing the big downloading using my home wifi.

  4. zaax

    So let me get this right. the consumer pays for the fermo cell; the consumer pays for the Internet; the consumer pays for the call or data allowance. Sounds like a a brilient money make scheme to me

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      They are pretty heavily subsidised, but yes, why give the customer something for free when they're prepared to pay for it?

      And if you're not prepared to pay for it you've clearly never lived somewhere where you have to hang out a window to get a phone signal (at best).

  5. Slik Fandango

    Sure Signal

    When it works its very good, but when it doesn't it's very very bad!

    I decided to splash £50 because the signal in my house (from where I do most of my work) is just a little to weak to be able to make consistently good calls. One client pays for my mobile - so want to use that rather than landline.

    So the ideal setup seemed to be Sure Signal with OneNet Express - get a landline number on the mobile so people think I'm calling from a landline, and can also call me at landline rather than mobile rates.

    Well thats the theory - Sure Signal is currently waiting to be packaged to send back to Vodafone as it needs replacing due to a 'failure' and spent 3 hours yesterday trying to get Vodafone to sort out caller id, voicemail and other issues with mobile - which included 3 resets, being told that I had done something wrong, then they needed to do something, then me... argh!

  6. JeffyPooh

    "...there will always be more small cells than big ones."

    Not exactly surprising news (given: once they were invented). It's kinda a general rule that (e.g.) ants outnumber elephants.

    'The Siphonaptera'

    Big fleas have little fleas,


    Prediction: If (when...) they invent even tinier cell sites, they'll outnumber the briefcase-sized jobs.


  7. IGnatius T Foobar Bronze badge

    T-Mobile (USA)

    T-Mobile does a very nice end run around the femtocells. Most of their phones are configured with an option to reach the telephone network via wifi if it is available. Now every wifi hotspot in the world is a femtocell. Problem solved.

  8. Marty McFly

    This stinks!

    I have no cell service at my home (coverage stops 8 miles away). AT&T made me pay $200 for a micro cell to plug into my Internet connection. Why should I be paying to help them with their coverage??!!?? And on top of that, the thing is a piece of crap.

  9. James 100

    What I'd really like is a multi-network femtocell: gateway GSM/GPRS/whatever onto the Net regardless of network. Easy to imagine coffee shops etc (the places that already provide public wifi) doing it as a public service in the same vein.

    Difficult, I know, it would need either one company to offer up their expensive spectrum to help all the others (riiiight!) or a license-free slice of spectrum for the purpose (good luck getting handsets to work with it). Maybe UMA is the nearest we'll get, and that doesn't seem to be catching on yet with networks or most manufacturers.

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