By Allan Leinwand  Mobile operators are on the verge of asking you to help them solve one of their biggest problems – how to get more signal strength where you need or want it most. Their plan? Allow end users to buy personal devices that act […]

By Allan Leinwand 

Mobile operators are on the verge of asking you to help them solve one of their biggest problems – how to get more signal strength where you need or want it most. Their plan? Allow end users to buy personal devices that act like Wi-Fi routers, providing nearby cellular bandwidth in hard-to-reach places like offices and homes.

These next type of cell sites, named femto cellular (femto being smaller than pico, the term used by mobile operators that refers to smaller cell sites) are setting out to solve carriers’ often-expensive problem of providing complete coverage. Mobile phones usually work well in metropolitan areas, but travel a few miles off the Interstate or into the country and signal bars drop rapidly. Most frustrating to many people is that the signal strength at their homes or inside offices is often unusable.

The forthcoming femto solution? Having end-users buy a small femto device, similar in concept to a Wi-Fi access point, that is a personal cellular site. The femto cellular device has a cellular antenna to boost the available signal as well as an Internet connection. The device uses your Internet connection to connect to your mobile provider’s’ network and route your phone calls.

There are a few limitations, or benefits, to this approach, depending how you see it. First of all, the femto device you buy will probably only connect to a single mobile provider’s network. That’s good if you like your mobile operator and bad if you want to switch operators on a regular basis. This approach is clearly good for the mobile operator because you buy a device that uses your Internet connection to extend their network and gives you less incentive to switch providers.

Since femto cellular devices are not available yet, there are some unknown issues – will mobile operators charge the same for minutes via femto cellular devices? Will enterprises buy femto cellular devices like Wi-Fi access points to extend cellular coverage? How do you stop your neighbors from using your femto cellular device and the associated broadband bandwidth (or do you care)? And how much are you willing to pay for a device that lets you use mobile phones in your house?

Allan Leinwand is a venture partner with Panorama Capital and founder of Vyatta. He was also the CTO of Digital Island. 

  1. I have another thought – what about using these femtocells as a way to bypass roaming charges? Theoretically, you could plug one of them into a hotel broadband connection or at a second home in a lush island paradise and carry your home rate plan with you, just like is possible with VoIP now.

    I would expect that this would be dramatically illegal. Using licensed spectrum without permission – especially expensive GSM spectrum – is generally frowned upon. It could even cause technical problems to existing carriers. For example, what if you plugged in a GSM femtocell in Korea where there is no GSM, just CDMA – would it cause interference to the CDMA networks?

    Still, this is an extraordinarily disruptive proposition to the wireless model and might just be the reason that the (over-protective, conservative and generally clueless) wireless carriers won’t do it.

    I would buy it in a heartbeat, though.

  2. ¿Empresas móviles foneras?…

    En este artículo en GigaOM se comenta la posibilidad de que las empresas celulares convenzan a algunos de sus clientes que se hagan foneros y que pongan las antenas de las empresas celulares en sus casas. Lo interesante es que…

  3. Perhaps if carriers had focused more on, say, building more sites instead of trying to make us watch TV on our phones or buy $1.99 ringtones that expire in 90 days, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  4. Are cellular companies also looking for Foneros?…

    FON´s idea –that people build their own FON company–, may be replicated by cellular operators according to this interesting article in GigaOM…

  5. This isn’t really new, and is already in use, with the UMA phones in the UK and France. Or am I missing something here?
    There it’s coupled to a lower tariff with calling from home.

  6. Boost your own cell phone strenght!…

    According to GigaOM, mobile operators are on the verge of asking mobile users to boost their own signal strength themselves, by allowing them to buy personal devices that act like Wi-Fi routers…

  7. You can already do this with a myriad of repeaters that are on the market. You don’t need to use a specific carrier and they work quite well. Just pick the band (or bands!) that you want to work with (800/1900 etc) and volia you’ve got fantastic cell service. Ones for houses are < $400.00 right now. Malls use these all of the time and those run

  8. I have a non-existant cell phone signal at my home. A little problem called Hills. Anyway I am looking around at various options for boosting the signal. Given I can see a cell phone tower from my house I would have thought I should have a signal. Anyway a good and timely article.

  9. Verizon: It’s the Network…And It’s Incomplete…

    In two previous posts, Does Verizon really care about the Network? and Scrounging for Ideas behind the Marketing, we asked what tangible actions customers see to back up the Network and Dropped Call bragging that Verizon and Cingular do.
    They don&#8217…

  10. Perhaps these mesh WiFi vendors had the intelligence to have their devices have RF reception for 800/900/1900 MHz so that along with the 2.4/5 GHz for 802.11 a/b/g it could also receive Mobile phone signals. Then al they have to do is take the digital phone signals and have it routed over the IP network to a central location where it can be converted and emitted out as RF.

    Would be interesting to see what it does to the latency and the voice quality.

    Martin, I just you the next Fon device idea. Maybe the Meraki folks could also use this for their next product.

    AS a matter of fact I would love to try this out myself at home myself. Maybe a new startup.

    Any feedback, please shoot me responses at my mentioned email address.




Comments have been disabled for this post