Femtocells & Mobile Broadband: What’s the Connection?

In just a few short years, mobile broadband has become the lifeblood of modern day computing.

Without a stable and reliable wireless connection to the internet, much of what we know computing to be these days (i.e., sending emails, browsing the web, Tweeting, posting pictures on Instagram, etc.) becomes a bit of a hassle. After all, who wants to be constantly searching for Wi-Fi access and dealing with log-in screens when all you want to do is share a funny picture of a cat with your Twitter followers?

However, while sharing funny pictures is a great deal of fun, it’s only the beginning: with 5G on the horizon, and literally billions of people around the globe pushing mobile networks to max capacity, internet service providers are being forced to take a hard look at the infrastructure to see where improvements can be made.

And, when it comes to expanding mobile network connectivity, femtocell antennas are one of the best, most versatile solutions on the market.

Femtocell antenna

What are Femtocells?

Femtocells, like other small cells, are low-powered, mobile transmission devices used for expanding mobile broadband connectivity. In fact, they are the smallest type of small cell, having a capacity to support only about 6 mobile users at a time with a femtocell range of up to 100 feet.1

Why Choose Femtocells over Traditional Macrocells?

Although femtocells don’t offer as much network coverage as a traditional macrocell site, they are still becoming the preferred device for expanding connectivity in a wide variety of locations.

Therefore, in locations where space and land sells at a premium (think tightly congested urban centers), femtocells and other small cells are becoming the go-to solution for network service providers (NSPs) looking to expand connectivity since femtocell installations are far more space efficient.

Besides requiring less space, femtocells also offer a whole host of other benefits, such as densifying networks, improving mobile handset battery life, and requiring less maintenance.

Femtocell Advantages

Although femtocells on their own have limited capacity for expanding network connectivity, femtocells can be deployed in an array of sorts, which allows them to completely blanket an area in cellular coverage.

Because of this array, mobile users who are passing through a femtocell network are seamlessly transferred from one antenna to the next, reducing packet loss and improving cellular connectivity.

Therefore, in locations where space and land sells at a premium (think tightly congested urban centers), femtocells and other small cells are becoming the go-to solution for network service providers (NSPs) looking to expand connectivity since femtocell installations are far more space efficient.

Besides requiring less space, femtocells also offer a whole host of other benefits, such as densifying networks, improving mobile handset battery life, and requiring less maintenance.
Femtocell technology also provide mobile users with better battery life on their smartphones, as the low-powered nature of the femtocell means that the frequency broadcasted isn’t as demanding as it would be on a macrocell site, which allows mobile handsets to consume less energy while performing actions such as browsing the web.

And, unlike antennas used in a distributed antenna system, femtocells are powered by their own femtocell base station, meaning each antenna is directly tied into local internet backhaul.

This allows each deployed femtocell to be “self-organizing”, which is another way of saying that the femtocell is almost completely autonomous and capable of configuring and optimizing itself.

Finally, all data that is processed by a femtocell is encrypted as it passes through the femtocell gateway, so mobile users don’t have to worry about their privacy being compromised as data on their smartphone is being sent and received.2

Femtocell Drawbacks

While femtocells offer a whole host of tangible benefits for expanding network coverage, there are still issues that NSPs have to be aware of.

Because femtocell devices are so low-powered, they are susceptible to interference from other cell sites, especially macrocell sites. This means that in potential femtocell locations, great care must be taken to ensure that 1) there are enough femtocells to boost the signal to override any interference, and 2) the femtocells are arranged in such a way that negates the effects of any interference in the area.

If these precautions are not met, then mobile users entering into the coverage area may experience severe latency or a complete loss of connectivity.

Femtocell Use-Cases

As mentioned above, because of their space-efficient nature, femtocells can be implemented in a wide variety of different situations.

For example, femtocells are commonly used to expand network coverage in private residences, in business offices, and in small outdoor and indoor locations.

Femtocell for the Home

Although Australia is home to one of the fastest mobile phone networks in the world, some individuals may still find that they are receiving poor network coverage at home.

While Wi-Fi calling is quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional phone calls, there are still many cases in which certain individuals, especially for those who work from home, require a traditional cellular connection.

In cases such as these, femtocells, such as Optus’ femtocell product known as “Home Zone” (discontinued in June 2017), can be used to turn an existing broadband connection into a mobile cellular connection.3

And while this service is no longer available, the technology allows femtocell home internet users to receive reliable cellular connectivity from their home, even though there is poor cellular service in the area.

This level of connectivity will allow users to send and receive phone calls as they normally would on their mobile network, along with other activities such as SMS text messaging.

home Femtocell

Femtocells for the Office

Just as femtocells can be used to expand cellular coverage at home, they can also be used in a similar fashion to expand coverage in the office.

By strategically positioning femtocells in a typical business office, and using an existing broadband infrastructure, it is completely possible to blanket the area with reliable cellular connectivity.

This sort of implementation is especially useful in an office type setting, as many offices receive poor cellular coverage due to the structural elements of the building (i.e., layers of drywall, reflective windows, concrete, etc.) causing interference to the signal being transmitted from nearby macrocell or small cell sites.

However, with femtocells, everyone located inside the office can still receive a stable connection on their mobile device.

Outdoor Locations

Outdoor locations like strip malls and small outdoor dining areas can also benefit from the placement of femtocells, as these types of outdoor venues tend to receive a high number of mobile users and are often lacking in useable space for larger cell types.

With femtocells, a cellular antenna can be placed on virtually any rooftop or tall structure, like a lamppost, as long as the necessary backhaul is installed.

The Future of Network Connectivity

As the world’s urban centers become more tightly congested due to population growth, and as our networks become more and more stressed due to our dependency on mobile connectivity, NSPs will likely continue to turn to small cells to expand network coverage.

Small cells are a cost-effective solution for expanding net connectivity, though their implementation in the home is likely to decrease as NSPs continue to develop services such as Wi-Fi calling. Additionally, many mobile users are communicating more and more through specific apps that don’t require a traditional cellular connection, which decreases the need for home cellular coverage even further.

Opportunities for Property Owners

To expand network connectivity in dense urban environments, NSPs are looking to the rooftops of businesses, schools, apartment complexes, and other locations that are above network interfering structures.

As such, many property owners are discovering that their rooftops are becoming a highly sought-after commodity since many NSPs are willing to pay property owners for the rights to place network boosting antennas on their rooftops.

Known as a “rooftop cell site lease”, the NSP basically agrees to pay the property owner rent (typically for 20 years) on a monthly basis for the ability to place antennas and other equipment, such as base stations, to improve network connectivity in the area.

These types of leases can net property owners thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly rental payments, depending on the size and scale of the cell site.

LDC Infrastructure’s Role

LDC Infrastructure is one of the largest ground lease and rental rights acquisition companies in Australia, providing clients of all types with greater financial security.

Whether it’s a rooftop cell site lease, a billboard lease, or a wind turbine lease, we can help you unlock the hidden value of your assets.

Instead of receiving monthly rental payments, LDC Infrastructure can provide you with a lump sum payment. Having this large amount of cash on hand provides property owners with the ability to make further property investments, start new business ventures, or perhaps even retire early.

Additionally, most ground leases can be terminated at any time with short notice, so by accepting a lump sum cash payment for your lease, you can achieve greater long-term financial security.

Contact LDC Infrastructure Today

Even if you don’t wish to sell your rooftop cell site lease, we can still help you understand the entire value of your lease. If your site meets our criteria, we can provide you a no obligation, free-of-charge valuation of your property.

Call us today at 1300 149 499, or click here to submit your information online so that we may contact you.

1. https://www.repeaterstore.com/pages/femtocell-and-microcell
2. http://urgentcomm.com/networks-amp-systems-mag/invasion-femtocell
3. https://yescrowd.optus.com.au/t5/Blog/An-update-on-the-Home-Zone-platform/ba-p/192704