Frequently asked questions

Here are a some FAQs about femtocell technology and deployment. For further information, please check out our collection of articles and white papers:

Where will femtocells be deployed?

Femtocells were initially designed to provide coverage over small areas such as the home or SOHO (small-office, home-office) environments.

However, operators have moved on to identify a number of major user segments for femtocell and exciting service scenarios. For example, it is significant to see that recently several operators have commercialised a femtocell service specific to enterprises. At the same time additional segmentation is being actively trialled and in some cases deployed, including open access, metro and rural applications.

Why will consumers use femtocells?

There are several motivations for consumers. At the most fundamental level, femtocells fulfil a latent demand for better coverage at home, enabling users to maintain their personal involvement with a single trusted phone and phonebook.

However they also provide scope for improved quality and personal bandwidth for users to gain dedicated access to high-rate services such as mobile TV and wireless music 'sideloading’. They also provide a means to enable tariff structures and billing which is targeted at the home and family group. Note also that although 3G femtocells are expected to be the biggest market initially, we are also seeing 2G and indeed 4G (including LTE and WiMAX) designs emerging.

What is the main advantage of femtocells over Voice-over-Wi-Fi?

Cellular technology is an extremely mature, trusted and robust wireless standard for voice telephony, while Wi-Fi is new to this area.

Femtocells work with all existing mobile handsets whereas there are very few dual-mode (Wi-Fi/Cellular) handsets on the market. Forcing users to change handsets, or to limit their choice prematurely, makes the proposition less attractive to consumers. Furthermore, femtocells use licensed spectrum, which allows the operator to guarantee a good quality of service. Wi-Fi spectrum is unlicensed, and therefore subject to a much higher risk of interference and poor quality. Additionally Wi-Fi significantly reduces handset battery life while femtocells actually improve it by reducing the power which the handset needs to transmit.

The white paper Wireless in the Home & Office: the need for both 3G femtocells and Wi-Fi access points provides more information.

Who will pay for femtocells?

It is entirely up to the operators how the femtocell device is paid for – many will adopt a subsidy model widely used with mobile phones while some others will adopt a fully costed model.

Surveys suggest customers are willing to pay for exceptional coverage in their home, major savings on their phone bill as well as various new services, and all this is available on all handsets not a few ‘special’ models. A consumer survey conducted over 6 countries suggested around 60% of consumers are keen to have a femtocell in their home.

How much does femtocell home user equipment cost?

Market forces always prevail. However, unlike conventional cellular infrastructure, femtocells adopt a consumer electronics model for development and production.

As a result they can benefit from significant economies of scale in manufacturing and costs will reduce rapidly with volume. As mentioned before, operators may not attach a simple price to a femtocell but may provide the equipment to users as part of a bundled deal or an extended contract period. In quantity, there is no reason why femtocells need to be any more expensive than Wi-Fi access points to the end customer. When integrated with a home gateway costs could be even lower.

What size will the end user equipment be?

No different to a Wi-Fi access point. See our member websites for a range of examples.

Will femtocells interfere with macro networks?

Femtocells benefit from the shielding effect of the home, which is the very effect which makes home coverage difficult from the outdoor network.

They are extremely intelligent devices capable of sensing the use of frequencies around them and adapting their operation to minimise any disturbance while staying within parameters which are set by the operator. Ultimately they benefit from the certainty of operation on licensed frequencies which can be carefully managed by the operator, unlike the licence-exempt frequencies used for Wi-Fi. Calculations and trials have demonstrated that femtocells actually reduce the overall interference levels in a network by reducing the loading of the outdoor network.

See our white papers for more details -Interference Management in OFDMA Femtocells, Interference Management in UMTS Femtocells, Femto Forum Summary Report: Interference Management in UMTS Femtocells.

Won’t femtocells impact network planning?

Femtocells are quite different to existing cellular base stations and are designed to set themselves up in accordance with their cellular environment. So planning does take place – the difference is that it is automated.

Unlike Wi-Fi hotspots, femtocells operate in licensed spectrum. Won’t this delay their deployment?

No. It simply means that only licensed spectrum holders can offer femtocells. Obviously mobile operators already fit into this category so they will be the predominant providers of femtocell services.

What about regulatory requirements?

There are differing regulatory hurdles that femtocells face around the world.

A key role of the Femto Forum is to negotiate with regulators to amend some of their policies and a working group has already been established to do exactly that. There are also several technological approaches to ensuring femtocells are only used in their intended environment.

See our Regulatory section for more details.

Are there any health issues associated with femtocells?

Femto Forum members are designing their products to fully comply with the guidelines for human exposure to electromagnetic emissions issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and other relevant regulatory authorities.environment.

How many companies belong to the Femto Forum?

The Femto Forum currently has over 130 publicly announced members.

How would you describe the Femto Forum's membership?

The Femto Forum's membership is representative of the industry.On the vendor side we have innovative startups and large OEMs. In addition, we already have several mobile operators on board, including major international mobile operator groups and numerous regional players of all sizes. The Forum’s working groups contain the biggest mobile operators and vendors in the world.

What are the main things you would like the Forum to achieve over the next year?

In broad terms, Femto Forum continues to organise activity in the four key areas reflected in our working groups - regulatory; network and interoperability; radio and physical layer; and marketing and promotion.

However, as the industry develops we have refined that focus and formed a number of special interest groups that reflect current priorities and draw on the expertise of our members. These groups include LTE and WIMAX, the interoperability group, the services group and the interoperability group

In the year 2011/12, our Board directed the Forum's activities to the support of LTE femtocell development, the evolution of enterprise deployments, the continued drive for open interoperability and service enablement, the on-going tracking of consumer response to femtocell deployments and the dissemination of best practice.

Which operators are looking into femtocells?

According to the latest report from Informa Telecoms & Media, eight out of the top ten mobile operator groups (by revenue) now offer femtocells services. As of June 2011, there are 31 commercial services (from 19 in February 2011) and a total of 43 deployment commitments. The Femto Forum has grown to include 63 mobile operators, representing 1.71 billion mobile subscribers worldwide.

See the latest Informa Telecoms and Media market status report in our white paper section for more details.


What are the main challenges for operators with femtocell technology?

Operators need to be confident they can source devices in the right volumes and at the right price point.

They also need to protect their spectrum, ensuring that femtocells can co-exist with their outdoor network. Operators need to be able to provision, manage and monitor femtocells, as well as integrate them into their core networks without excessive changes.

Users need to be able to install them with a minimum of fuss. There are Forum working groups looking into all these issues and a growing number of operators that have addressed all of them to their satisfaction to enable commercial launch.

What are the main operator benefits of the technology?

Femtocells provide a cost-effective way for operators to provide coverage to homes, offices and urban hot spots. The business case for femtocells revolves around reducing capex associated with macro networks, improving user experience and service offerings, the introduction of new service revenues and reducing churn.

Because mobile data usage is increasing exponentially, the data offload benefit of femtocells is therefore also increasing. At the same time femtocell prices and other femtocell-related costs are falling.

In short, the business case for femtocells is getting stronger. Here is a detailed summary of the business case for femtocells.

How do you see the femtocell market developing?

The following chart from Innforma Telecoms & Media illustrates a historical representation of deployments and commitments, both of which, as of June 2011, have increased more than 200% within a year.

femtocells and deployment

Operators continue to identify a number of major user segments for femtocell and exciting service scenarios. All femtocell deployments had previously been focused on consumer deployment, so it is significant to see that several operators have now commercialised a femtocell service specific to enterprises. Enterprise only femtocell deployments are starting to accelerate compared with previous quarters. Beeline (Russia) and Vodafone (Netherlands) have launched enterprise only femtocell services during Q3 2011.

Additional segmentation is being considered, including open access, metro and rural applications.

See the most recent edition of the Femtocell Market Status report for more details.