During my recent talk about small cells and their evolution toward higher coverage, capacity and reach, a listener asked me, “Isn’t that what today’s picocells offer?” The answer is, “Exactly!” As we move toward femto networks, femtos will be used as traditional picocells, combining the plug and play benefit of femto architecture with larger coverage and capacity of picocells. Our recent announcement of femto chipsets supporting up to 32 users is a major step in that direction.
The initial deployments of femtocells have been mostly residential, used as in-door hotspots, supporting a limited number of users. They were largely unplanned and mostly “restricted,” meaning that only the allowed user(s) could access them. Forward looking operators are already looking at small-medium enterprise femtos supporting higher number of users, targeted to be used, as the name suggests, at small offices and enterprises. The next major move will be—femto-networks.
Femto networks are typically large-scale, dense deployments of high-capacity, enterprise femtocells supporting 16-32 users. These femtocells, sometimes referred to as Metrocells, will be largely “open” access, meaning any customers of specific operators may access them. They could be planned, and deployed, by the operators themselves, as well as potentially providing the backhaul.
These femtos may be deployed either indoors, say, in big shopping malls or enclosed stadiums/arenas, or outdoors, such as in highly populated downtown markets, stadiums etc. In addition, femto networks will not only support the typical femto-macro and macro-femto handovers, but also femto-femto handovers, providing users with an excellent user experience no matter whether they are in femto coverage, in macro coverage, or somewhere in between.
To support such deployments, interference and mobility management techniques, such as are offered by Qualcomm’s UltraSONTM, are a must. As mentioned in my previous blog post on making femto deployments ultra easy, UltraSON ensures that the interference between the femtos themselves and between the macro network are minimized, and that the mobility between these nodes is managed flawlessly. Ultimately, this provide more capacity and other benefits to operators and an enhanced experience to users.
Going back to the original question, this is where the line between femtos and picocells is being blurred. Femto networks bring the best of both worlds – the higher network capacity and coverage that comes from picocells along with the benefits of plug-and-play and minimal planning and optimization requirements of femtos.
We would like to know your take on where femtos are headed. Let your voice be heard on our Twitter account @qualcomm_tech. And, as usual refer to www.qualcomm.com/femto for more information.