Femtocells – What You Need To Know


Mobile technology evolution

Mobile technology has come a long way, and it still has a long way to go. To put things in perspective, early mobile networks operated on 1G – the first generation wireless network technology, those old mobile phones in the 1980s that were shaped like bricks. Followed by 2G, 3G, 4G, and now the current 5G rollout that we’re witnessing in Australia.

With each mobile network technology comes improved performance – faster speeds, higher bandwidth, and lower latency.

But even within these technologies are more advancements to improve what they have to offer. For instance, while 5G phone plans promise huge improvements in speeds over LTE networks, the technology has a disadvantage in how far it can travel. That requires more base stations and antennas than usual, which has caused radiation concerns for some, despite those concerns being debunked.

So the answer to 5G’s inability to travel long distances could lie in small cells – another great technological advancement. And small cells can do a lot more than that, especially when discussing femtocells.

But what are small cells, and more specifically, what are femtocells? In this post, we’ll walk you through this great technology, and how it just might solve some of your network issues in your home or office.

What are small cells?

Femtocells are a type of small cells, so it makes sense if we start by describing what small cells are.

Small cells are wireless, low power, short range radio access point.  They are transmission systems, kind of like base stations, which means they can help extend coverage. However, their small nature makes them ideal for smaller geographic areas.

For mobile technologies like 5G which have a hard time traveling long distances, small cells can come in handy in reducing the number of base stations scattered all over town. But finding the right type small cell is the key, and there are three groups to choose from:

 finding the right type small cell


What are femtocells?

Femtocells are the smallest of the small cells. They use the least power, but they also have the shortest network coverage. These are advantages and disadvantages in themselves.

First, because of their low power, femtocells are less expensive to deploy than other small cells. They are also very small – around the size of a router or a cordless phone base – which makes them ideal for home and office use.

But because of their short coverage, femtocells are limited to such home and office use. You might also need multiple femtocells to make them reliable in some applications.

multiple femtocells

Optus 3G Home Zone femtocell device for consumers. The offer and plan was later scrapped by the telco. img src

Femtocell applications

For broadband users, femtocells are great. This includes both wired and mobile broadband networks, so Australians who have signed up for any 5G home wireless broadband plan can gain femtocell benefits as well.

But what are the benefits?

Well, femtocells can essentially turn your broadband connection into a cellular network. And because femtocells are small, they are perfect for the home and office, compared to other small cells.

Having a femtocell in your home or office can extend cell signals throughout, so this is especially great in areas where cellular coverage is bad. In such cases, your home or office broadband could be turned into a cellular network, allowing you to make voice calls and send SMS messages.

Voice calls and SMS might seem a bit outdated now that WiFi calls and apps lke WhatsApp are popular, but that isn’t necessarily the case – many still depend on these features. In many cases, WiFi may not be available, or apps may require the other party to have WiFi access and the app before calls and messages can be made. Femtocells eliminate that by allowing you mae direct calls and texts with your broadband connection.

In fact, we saw the true demand of voice calls last year when telcos experienced network congestion and blackouts due to too many voice calls when COVID-19 stay-at-home measures were at their peak.

For offices, femtocells can extend coverage as well, allowing business owners utilize one broadband connection to produce cellular signals for phone calls. And where femtocells coverage is limited, users can combine multiple femtocells to improve coverage throughout the office area.

Final words

Despite its benefits, femtocells have had somewhat of a rough time in the consumer market. This was especially true in the global femtocell manufacturing market during the peak coronavirus pandemic last year, according to a recent Apex Market Research analysis.

Also, we’ve also seen telcos get rid of their femtocell plans and offers over the years. For instance, Optus launched their 3G Home Zone back a few years ago to offer customers femtocells in their homes to help boost mobile signals. However, the telco scrapped the idea later. Telstra also scrapped their consumer femtocell idea.

Despite its lack of popularity in the consumer market, femtocells still serve a great purpose if used correctly in the right applications. For those who see a benefit in great cellular signals, generated from home or office broadband connections, then a femtocell might be your ideal solution.


Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.