In France, Illiad’s “Free” telecommunications brand is to use femtocells as a way of increasing its effective coverage. These are devices that provide mobile telephony coverage within small premises, typically one’s house, but use the Internet service as the backbone to the mobile telephone network.
SFR offers a similar service for their “Neufbox Evolution” customers but this requires that they pay EUR99 per month for this service. Instead Free are offering it as a complimentary service to their “Freebox Revolution” customers. Both of the triple-play platforms will have the functionality integrated in their “n-boxes” which combine a network-Internet “edge” device (router) along with a VoIP analogue telephony adaptor.
For France, this will be seen as relevant for the mobile carriers in that country as they face an uphill battle against a strong NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) culture when it comes to deploying mobile-phone towers. This is more exacerbated as the junk science and fears concerning the side-effects of electromagnetic radiation are held as gospel in some French communities.
Issues that can affect current femto implementations
A limitation I have observed with these “femto” implementations is that they will be designed to serve up to four or five handsets, which may be enough for a household. But for a country that has the cafes and brasseries at its heart, there needs to be reference designs for femtocells that can work in a similar manner to a Wi-Fi hotspot service. Here, the device could support around 10 to 15 concurrent users. The service could support multiple-carrier traffic and provide the host carrier or even the business’s owner with a service bounty for customer’s voice minutes that pass through the femtocell.
Similarly, there can be the issue of assuring coverage across the property for a femtocell setup. It may be of concern with larger properties in areas of poor mobile coverage or properties that have radio obstacles like thick brick walls for example. This could be rectified by establishing a mechanism for “multi-femto” arrangements where the same backbone can serve two or more femtocells with proper seamless handover.
Of course there are other technology setups that may work instead of the femtocell. The classic example may be the use of Wi-Fi technology with EAP-SIM authentication and VoIP call-provisioning systems to provide “indoor” mobile-call service. This will typically require the phone to have integrated Wi-Fi functionality which most smartphones do have; but support seamless handover, quality-of-service and accounting between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
Another issue that will affect this setup is current-generation Wi-Fi transceivers that are integrated in smartphones is energy use when in full activity. Here this will affect the mobile phone’s battery runtime and typically cause the phone to require charging more frequently. Most likely this will be rectified in the upcoming generations of Wi-Fi transceivers available for these devices.
The French femtocell services offered by Free and SFR are worth examining as far as private femtocell and “quad-play” (TV, telephone, mobile telephone and Internet) services go. Here, it would be worth examining the technology and its relevance for mobile-telephony service goes especially where the NIMBY culture thrives; and identify the real problems where it can run into when using it to augment these service in the public and private realms.