Home > Broadband, Femtocell, LTE, WiMAX > Femtocells – A turning tide!

Femtocells – A turning tide!

Femtocells tide finally seems to be turning – Sprint has announced last week that they will be giving away a new Airvana femtocell product that supports EV-DO, to customers based on the need and eligibility.  The initial version of Sprint’s Airave device, which was made by Samsung, was released in the summer of 2008 and supports only CDMA 1x service. Earlier this spring, AT&T Mobility launched a nationwide femtocell offering, the 3G MicroCell, which it developed with Cisco. Verizon Wireless also has a femtocell that supports CDMA 1x service, called the Network Extender. Only the fourth largest carrier T-Mobile doesn’t to have a Femtocell strategy in place, but they have had UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) which did not take off as expected because of lack of Handset vendors commitment.

Femtocells have been one product that I would recommend every customer who has had bad coverage indoors. I have had some experiences in the past where I have had bad coverage at home, with operators that I have worked for and had been an embarrassment that I had to explain away! But then came Pico-cells which helped bridge the gap and improve coverage but was only for corporate customers or malls. Femtocells provide a true experience of convergence and footprint expansion. Let us compare the four carriers and their Femto coverage starting with the number one.


Verizon wireless launched femtocells around January of 2009, with a Samsung CDMA 1X Femtocell. Called “Wireless Network Extender,” the femtocell is able to provide up to 5,000 square feet of CDMA coverage and supports up to three simultaneous mobile phone calls.

The Extender is a big black box that stands vertically, and is about twice as large as any wireless router. So by no means is it handy and portable. There are three different places to plug something in – power, router/ethernet connector, and a plug for the GPS receiver.

The GPS receiver is removable so that in case you can’t get the Extender to reach a window, you can install the included 23-foot extension cable to help get close enough to a window to pick up a signal. The purpose of the GPS is to ensure the device is not being used outside the US (which certainly would’ve been a nice workaround to the expense of international calling) and tracking you down for E911. Up to three phones can use the Extender at the same time, with a fourth channel reserved strictly for emergency calls. Any other phones will be redirected to the nearest tower. If you leave the Extender’s range during a call, you will also be redirected to a tower if available. However, the vice versa doesn’t work; you cannot start a call outside range and then pick up the Extender signal during the duration of the same call. The Verizon Wireless Network Extender hardware costs $249 and there is no monthly fee to use it.

Technology supported – CDMA 1X


AT&T launched its 3G Femtocell in April of this year due to incessant complaints about poor voice and data services which will soon come to an end, though at a cost of $150.It’s a device that creates a tiny 3G data and voice signal for personal use, eliminating AT&T’s network issues within a limited range. They sell the MicroCell for $150 with a $20 per month plan for unlimited calling via the product. However, data usage on AT&T’s femtocell counts toward a subscriber’s data cap.

The Microcell acts like a mini cell tower at home. It connects to existing broadband internet service through an Ethernet cable, according to AT&T, and then beams out a cell signal that has a range of about 40 feet, or enough to cover most apartments and houses. It can only support up to four simultaneous voice/data sessions you can authorize up to 10 phones/devices to connect to your Femtocell. AT&T recommends temporarily placing the Femtocell within a few feet of any windows while it tries to receive a GPS lock during initial setup. After that it does not require a GPS signal.

AT&T and Cisco worked together to develop this femtocell solution for the home and home office – the 3G Microcells. It connects to AT&T’s network using existing broadband Internet service. With AT&T 3G MicroCell, customers receive improved cellular signal performance for both voice calls and cellular data applications.

Features and Benefits:

  • Enhanced indoor coverage: Supports both voice and data up to 5000 square feet
  • Compatible with 3G handsets: Works with any AT&T 3G device
  • Supports up to four voice or data users simultaneously
  • Device is secure and cannot be accessed by unauthorized users
  • Offers simplified management with easy and secure online management of device settings

This new and powerful technology offering, the Cisco Femtocell solution is a fully integrated architecture that securely ties into the AT&T network. With AT&T 3G MicroCell, AT&T customers are able to fully use and enjoy the advantages of AT&T’s 3G technology with their own, personal 3G base station.

Device Requirements:

  • 3G wireless phone
  • Broadband service over U-Verse, DSL or cable


Technology supported – 3G UMTS / 2G GSM


Sprint is the first operator in the US which has been selling its Femtocell solution called Airave, since 2008 to enhance its network for voice and data coverage in areas of weak coverage.  Sprint has released a new femtocell solution from Airvana called the Airave. The Airave facilitates continuous coverage and mobility in homes and offices, regardless of their proximity to a macro network. CDMA HubBub plugs directly into an existing broadband connection to extend 3G wireless CDMA services for voice and data applications.

Features and Benefits:

  • Simultaneous 1xRTT and EV-DO Rev-A
  • Flat IP-based architecture
  • SIP/IMS Core Network Interface
  • Plug-and-Play Install
  • Automated Network Planner
  • Comprehensive Remote Management
  • Compatible with standard CDMA 1xRTT and EV-DO Rev-A handsets
  • Ethernet Backhaul

Sprint can use the femtocell to greatly expand its data capacity since any IP service traffic from Web browsing to video sharing could be offloaded from the wide area macro network onto the public Internet. The HubBub and Airvana’s universal access gateway support a wide variety of protocols which can link directly to a legacy circuit-switched core, but most significantly to Sprint, the HubBub can connect via session initiation protocol, allowing it to communicate directly with Sprint’s IMS architecture.


Technology supported – 3G EVDO Rev A



T-Mobile seemed to have a great strategy in place with UMA or Unlicensed Mobile Access, until they decided to drop it early this year. I had been a great proponent of UMA, cheap indoor coverage solution while using your own Wi-Fi router at home. The plans are cheap with unlimited voice calls and browsing for $5/month add-on feature, with a Wi-Fi router free after mail-in rebate. Plus the advantage of using Wi-Fi for calling when overseas, I can personally vouch for it! Unlike Femtocells the operator doesn’t need licensed spectrum to be able to deploy UMA, plus it is a low-cost/no-cost option for a customer, except that the operator has extra expenses in convincing the handset manufacturers to build the UMA stacks/radios in the handsets, as well as an ‘extra’ gateway similar to a Femtocell gateway for operators.

The advantages for UMA:

  • UMA offers seamless delivery and transition (roaming and handover) of mobile and voice and data services between unlicensed and licensed wireless networks
  • UMA provides the same mobile identity on Cellular RAN and unlicensed wireless networks and presents no impact to operations of the cellular RAN
  • It preserves investment in existing/future mobile core network infrastructure
  • It also offers security that is equivalent to current GSM mobile network

Technology supported – UMA/GAN

Though there have been a lot of rumors in the media for an Android UMA phone from T-Mobile, till an official device is launched and or an Indoor femtocell solution is put forward the fourth largest carrier has to strive to catch up with the top three operators for indoor coverage solutions.

Last couples of years have seen successful deployment of Femtocells among the big operators in the US and with the launch of 4G services and data hungry devices like tablets will bring convergence to home and work!


Categories: Broadband, Femtocell, LTE, WiMAX Tags:
  1. August 23, 2010 at 10:50 am


    Good post on Femtos. I think it’s interesting that there is so much femto activity in the US. I guess that says something about the state of our mobile coverage.

    Just a comment about T-Mobile. I think they are using UMA as their coverage solution. Rather than putting a femto in the home, they are using the existing Wi-Fi at home, and in the office, or any other place their users might be.

    They actually didn’t cancel the service, called Wi-Fi Calling. Check out this link: http://t-mobile-coverage.t-mobile.com/3g-wireless-technology#

    I hope we’ll see Wi-Fi Calling on Android devices soon,



  2. August 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Steve –

    I agree with you that T-Mobile still supports the UMA platform, but they have no ‘new’ devices except for Balckberry’s and one Nokia E73 that supports the UMA calling. Unless they come up with Android based HTC/Samsung devices, UMA calling will be in the backburner. Also they have pulled the plug on @Home devices which were based on UMA.


  1. August 28, 2010 at 7:23 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: