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How big (or small) is femto?

A femto is incredibly… infinitesimally… extraordinarily small! It’s actually one quadrillionth of a unit, which, in other terms, is one part of a number that has 15 zeros! Well, the femto that I am going discuss here is not that femto. The one I’m talking about is femtocell, which has lots of buzz around it these days.

Femtocells — or femtos — are your very own, personal base stations that sit in your home or office, providing the best possible network coverage to you. They are being heralded as the provider of the next leap in performance for wireless networks. They provide near peak data rates, and very high capacity. And they put the full capacity of a base station at your disposal.

Since femtocells are usually installed by users, they bring substantial cost savings to operators. They help improve indoor coverage and by off-loading traffic from the macro network, they improve performance for other users in the network as well.

The figure below shows an example of the phenomenal improvements in data rates that can be achieved through femtos. The violet-colored bars indicate the data rates experienced by users before introducing femtocells. The orange-colored bars indicate data rates after.

  Data rate improvements with femtocells

Example of data rate improvements achieved by introducing femtocells

Going back to the definition of femto, you might ask “is the femtocell really that small?” While it may not be one quadrillionth the size of a macro, it is actually fairly small — similar to the size of typical WiFi router. It’s also smaller than a traditional macro base station. In comparison to the macro base station, it also consumes less power and is easier to deploy. Unlike macros, users install femtos themselves, which saves a substantial amount of time and money for operators in terms of on site acquisition, deployment, back-haul and operational activities.

If this innocent looking small box is that good, should I be worried about my neighbors stealing its magical powers? Does the use of femtos affect non-femto users (macro users) in any way? Will its capacity be impacted if all of my envious neighbors deploy their own femtos? What concerns, if any, do operators have about femtos? Get answers to all those questions in my next blog!

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