Since its early deployment, the focus of cellular has been on outdoor coverage, which makes sense when you consider that cellular began as car mounted devices for those few who could afford them. We are now in a world where the vast majority of cellular devices are handheld, they are “smart,” and mobile Internet is all the rage. However, has our thinking really caught up with the way things are heading? We believe the answer is “No.”
If you look at the trends in the mobile Internet along with the capabilities promised by 4G technology and beyond, we are just at the beginning of an in-building coverage revolution. This revolution is so profound that each building will become an individual “canvass” where RF engineers will be required to paint unique mosaics of coverage. In this world, the quality of in-building coverage (once an afterthought) could become even more important than macro coverage. All this is being driven by an undeniable market trend – the customer’s desire for faster and faster mobile data speeds wherever they are.
If you agree with us, there a number of logical conclusions that can be drawn. First, the wireless network will encounter severe in-building coverage troubles with the mass deployment of 4G technologies (LTE and WiMAX). Studies are already showing “poor in-building coverage” as a major contributor to churn; can you imagine how that is magnified as data speeds double and triple? Second, there is currently a gap in the planning arena for solutions that can easily “find” and “fill” in building holes. Yes, there are solutions that can handle ad hoc situations, however, patchwork solutions will ultimately lead to costly long term network performance issues. Is there anything out there that can scale quickly enough to support micro level planning on a macro basis? The answer is: Yes; a new type of cell is needed for inexpensive, small hole in-building coverage. The answer to that question is the femtocell.
Ah yes, the femtocell. Now, wasn’t 2008 supposed to be the year of the femtocell? And wasn’t 2009 supposed to be the year of the femtocell? And this year, come December, won’t we hear that 2011 will be the year of the femtocell? The answer to all these questions is “yes.” To many of you industry veterans, this could sound a little like the “year of wireless data” predictions we used to chuckle about. However, wireless data did finally get here, didn’t it?
That’s exactly what we expect to happen with the femtocell. You can debate the timing, but you can’t debate the trend. As 4G networks become more prevalent, customers are going to demand their fancy new devices to work just as well unwired as their wired broadband PCs do today. More and more buildings and homes are going to be found to have dead spots of coverage in support of these advanced capabilities. That is going to drive the demand for inexpensive ways to fill them. And that’s why we think femtocells are the future of wireless.
Bill Mayberry is the chief technical officer at Axis Teknologies, a wireless project management, engineering and technology consulting firm based in Atlanta.
P.J. Louis is president and owner of PJ Louis LLC, a consultancy that provides business, operational and technical advisory services.
Filed Under: Infrastructure