back to article Femtocells at tipping point: Don't want to become also-RANs

The femtocell industry gathered for its fourth annual world summit this week, and it was clear that significant progress had been made since the last London-based gathering. In June 2010, the tiny base stations had achieved wide acceptance as carrier controlled devices to improve indoor coverage and support offload. However, …


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  1. Andus McCoatover

    Am I reading..

    ..another nack in the kickers for Nokia (NSN?)

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      I do hope so.

      should we picking on easy targets?

      Yes. Like culling the runts, its for the good of the breed.

    2. hugo tyson

      NSN != Nokia

      not for years. Same way it != Siemens either, it's the merged spun-out network divisions of both those names.

      1. Andus McCoatover

        NSN != Nokia

        Yeah. Agree.

        Unfortunately, Nokia !=Nokia anymore.


  2. yeahyeahno

    I had to stop reading...

    RAN? SAE? LTE?

    Too many unexplained acronyms, made the article meaningless to me.

    1. Ru

      RAN? SAE? LTE? Easy.

      Really Awful Nomenclature, Still Angers Everyone, Lacks Telecoms Education?

      You should know what LTE is by now. RAN got me though; wikipedia suggests 'radio access network'. Sounds as likely as anything else.

  3. Frederic Bloggs
    Thumb Down

    And when can I get one

    from Orange (or whatever they are called this week)?

  4. M Gale

    The problem:

    Take a clipboard. Go into a busy town centre. Start asking people if they know what a femtocell is. Start asking people if they've heard of (for example) Vodaphone SureSignal.

    You'll probably find that out of the respondants, hardly anybody has. Now on the other hand, if you were to ask people "would you attach a box to your router that made the mobile phones in your house work properly", I bet quite a lot would like the idea! That is, amongst the respondants that have heard of what a "router" is.

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      And how many would respond

      "Well does the box look nice/pretty?"

      1. M Gale

        +1 for truth

        It's funny because it's oh so true.

    2. GettinSadda
      Thumb Down


      But how many of those would change their mind when you tell them that they will end up paying twice for all calls, texts and data used in their own house with one of these boxes. The companies selling these awful devices still charge us exactly the same for every byte we send through the device as they would if we were to make the same call etc. using one of their towers, yet we are the ones paying for the back-haul of that same data.

      100% rip-off

      1. Andus McCoatover

        ...will end up paying twice for all calls...

        You mean you pay for calls???

        Funny world you live in.

        I just let the advertisers pick up the tab. More fool them.

        (Remember, I live in Finland...Viagra Not Required. Polar Bears aren't fussy.)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Problem has an easy solution

      Just stuff it in a mandatory CPE.

      However in the UK only O2 can do that.

    4. Andus McCoatover

      "Start asking people if they know what a femtocell is"

      But, ask them what a "Femidom" is....Ah.

  5. James 47

    @M Gale

    I don't like the idea of paying for a mobile contract, and then because I've a poor signal being expected to pay for my own cell and then pay for the broadband connection on top of that. What's in it for the end user?

    1. b-a-r-k-i-n-g-m-a-d
      Thumb Up

      Get one now...

      "I don't like the idea of paying for a mobile contract, and then because I've a poor signal being expected to pay for my own cell and then pay for the broadband connection on top of that. What's in it for the end user?"

      For many people the quality of signal 'indoors' is never going to be perfect - I have tried O2 (awful - worked by one window), Orange (no signal anywhere), Three (no signal) and Vodafone (1-2 bars). Vodafone worked perfectly outside and most of the others got a signal at least.

      Got a Vodafone Suresignal - get 5 bars all around the house and a reliable 3G signal = happy. Surely it uses a tiny amount of bandwidth but it's insignificant compared to the benefit.

      The reality is without thousands more masts (at huge cost to the networks and therefore passed on to us) many people would not get a reliable signal 'indoors'. Get a £50 box from Vodafone and it's solved (assuming you are on Vodafone) - equivalent of adding just £2-3 a month over a 18-24 month contract (and of course you can continue to use it after that) - pretty small price to pay for being able to use your phone fully / anywhere at home / office.

    2. M Gale

      I suppose an alternative idea...

      ...would be if you paid for the cell and it acted like a public hotspot. The provider(s) you're contracted with could offer to re-imburse you a certain percentage of anybody else's calls routed through your cell. You get a potential for a little money earner, the mobile providers get lots and lots of little cells about the place for comparitively little investment, and (in theory) everyone is a happy bunny. Sort of like how solar panels on your roof can be used to pump any excess 'leccy back into the grid and pay you for it.

      Still, right now yes I would pay (a small amount) for a device to give guaranteed coverage (to me, not everybody) within the four walls of my house. From what I'm aware you're not "paying twice" like some people are stating. You just pay the usual amount. You already have an Internet connection at home (or at least, I assume most commentards here do), and it's not like one compressed-to-buggery duplex audio stream is going to impact much on even a poor broadband connection. Are you "paying twice" to use Skype Out?

      Which makes me think. Why can't a smartphone with wifi use the wifi to talk to the operator?

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Funnily enough

        They can, or rather could.

        Do you remember BT Fusion? It was a (contract) phone with Wifi built in. When you were in range of an Open Wifi network (or one you'd provided auth details for) everything would be routed over the Wifi instead.

        They still charged you for calls, text and data but IIRC had two different pricing schemes - one for Wifi one for GSM/3G etc.

        I do remember that the 'free' minutes were worth 4x more if you were using a wifi connection (i.e. 1 free 'minute' got you 4 mins)

        I was quite happy with it for a while, but it never really took off AFAIK. Not even sure they still run it anymore.

        Still got the phone somewhere, Nokia something ( I want to say 4136 but that's probably wrong)

        1. Anna Logg

          cellular and wifi in on phone

          Yeah, there have been a few handsets around that support GAN/UMA which in theory allows seamless roaming from cellular to wifi.

          The 6301 supports UMA, not sure what others. Technology been around for a while now but never seemed to take off, as Ben says.

  6. Anna Logg

    well it sort of works

    Having had a Vodafone SureSignal for a few weeks, what's in it for this end user is decent coverage anywhere in the house, as opposed to having to walk into the garden to make a call. Well, at least until I start uploading photos to my Skydrive account (other clouds are available), then the poor little thing loses synch. until I stop uploading. How typical my experience is I'm not sure, but it's still not 100% consumer friendly judging by the amount of issues raised on various forums. I'm on a bog standard ADSL+ line that gives around 6 meg down, 370K up.

    @yeahyeahno - this is a tech. site, acronym overload comes with the territory.

    1. yeahyeahno

      Oh really?

      @Anna Long, I'm a tech person, worked in IT for nearly 30 years now. Sure this is a tech site, but when it comes to mobile phone tech, just how many people here know what those acronyms mean? This site is primarily aimed at corporate and personal computing nerds, not telco nerds. Sorry those acronyms needed some explanation, as they have little to no currency with the main readership of this site.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        "This site is primarily aimed at " you think?

        But to help you out:

        "worked in IT for nearly 30 years" hmmm GIYF

        1. yeahyeahno

          hmmm GIYF

          Indeed it is, but, and I think it's a very big but, given the target audience of TheRegister, why should the author expect several hundred, perhaps thousands of people to repeatedly stop reading the article and use Google to find out what on earth it means, when a small amount of effort by the author could have enlightened us all.

          Basically the author forces crowd sourcing to work in the opposite direction.

  7. b-a-r-k-i-n-g-m-a-d

    Guess you are saturating your link?

    "Well, at least until I start uploading photos to my Skydrive account (other clouds are available), then the poor little thing loses synch."

    Guess you are saturating your link and the unit decides it could not offer a reliable connection. Most routers these days have some form of QoS built in - so it's less likely to be an issue. I have never experienced it but my router does have QoS / traffic prioritisation.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    "But how many of those would change their mind when you tell them that they will end up paying twice for all calls, texts and data used in their own house with one of these boxes"

    What gibberish - you are not paying twice - you are paying the same for your calls, texts and data - the only difference is the route 'out' is via a little box connected to your router and uses a tiny fraction of your bandwidth. I heard Vodafone were actually giving the boxes away with some contracts but even if they don't the box is just fifty quid (~£2/month on a fairly typical 2 year contract).

    For great coverage it's well worth it.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    "ask about .... Vodaphone SureSignal."

    Asking them how to spell Vodafone right might be a start.

    "RAN? SAE? LTE?"

    LTE I recognise, but I thought SAE was to usually to do with oil viscosity (more accurately, Society of Automotive Engineers) and I have no idea what RAN might relate to in this context (it's not the Japanese movie, surely?). [1]

    Might have been clearer if there had been helpful references.

    [1] Apparently it's "radio access network". First time I've seen that usage. I've seen LTE almost as many times as I've laughed at WiMax references.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      As any fool kno

      SAE = Stamped Addressed Envelope, as required by the BBC back in the good old days of Postman Pat.

      I suppose SMTP Simon doesn't have quite the same ring to it...

  10. JonRussell

    femtocells are great ! but too often used as another revenue stream...

    I bought one for my wife's phone on Vodafone. Genius. Plugged it in and now get 5 bars all round the house, verses 2 bars outside all over the village. Well worth £40. And it's self manageable. I log on to the VF web site and I can add up to 10 numbers. So my sister gets 5 bars when she visits. Perfect. Just what IT should be all about. Cheap. Easy. Intuitive. Enabling.

    However... my phone is a company phone on a BT corporate contact. No problem i think. BT mobile is just a Vodafone white label. I'll just call them and add my BT phone to my VF femtocell... ha! Yeah right.

    They say that's not possible. I give up after a couple of weeks of asking. However they offer me a BT femtocell... seeing as i have no choice, i agree. A second femtocell arrives at home. Its exactly the same device i have already for VF. Obviously.

    However the catches... It costs more than £40. But worse, BT charge ££ PER MONTH PER NUMBER !!!! can't remember how much exactly. About £3 per number per month. WTF!? and it's not self service. I have to get BT to add numbers. Obviously, so they can bill me!!

    TOTAL RIP OFF! clearly BT will be loosing our corporate account (300 phones) later in the year.

    But that is exactly what IT should not be. A route to rip of the consumer... its so sad. I now have two identical femtocells in my house. When i actually only need one... just because a company is to lazy and greedy to find an alternative...

  11. HaplessPoet


    If the operators gave them away!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    "TOTAL RIP OFF! clearly BT will be loosing our corporate account (300 phones) later in the year."

    Yes that's a BT (rip off) issue - Vodafone sell you the 'new' version for £50 no ties, no subscription. It makes great business sense - they can give you perfect coverage where it matters most - i.e. at home / at work - where most people spend most of their time.

    Good way to retain customers - I have switched networks several times in the past as coverage at home was poor. If I move again I move the SureSignal and keep my 5 bars.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    They probably will.

    "If the operators gave them away!"

    They probably will - it's cheaper to give someone a £50 box that gives them near perfect coverage than have them unhappy / leave. Even if they don't £50 over a 24 month contract is just equivalent to £2 a month so small chance when many people are paying £25-60 a month for their phones / contracts.

  14. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down

    Lead Balloon

    Regarding the Vodafone SureSignal Femtocell:

    You pay Vodafone £50 for a box that, not only allows Vodafone to extend their network using your bought-and-paid-for broadband bandwidth for free, but they get to charge you by the minute for it too.

    When Vodafone give the box away for free and charge considerably less for calls through it, I may be interested, but stinging me for using my own bandwidth is ridiculous.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Sheesh kebab.

    "When Vodafone give the box away for free and charge considerably less for calls through it, I may be interested, but stinging me for using my own bandwidth is ridiculous."

    "Stinging you" - hardly - the reality is with current technology unless they stuck a base station at the bottom of your garden you are unlikely to get 5 bars throughout your house.

    Perhaps they should pay you for your time to install it and guess you want paying of the electricity usage as well.

    Why should they charge less for calls - they are still routing them out. Think you are in the minority as everyone I speak to would be very glad to get 5 bars coverage within their house or office - even if it were for a small cost.

    Many people are on unlimited broadband plans these days and the bandwith is likely to be insignificant.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Femtocell is a cr@p name.

    Would be good if router manufactuers built the femto circuitry into their ADSL routers - single box and would be good if it could be 'open' i.e. work with any mobile operator that offered connection via femtocell.

  17. Anna Logg


    I didn't pay for my SureSignal; Vodafone phoned me to offer me a free phone upgrade, so while they were on the line I asked about a SureSignal due to my crao coverage and they agreed. I'm on a 15 quid a month contract so it's not like they're making megabucks out of me. So it's probably worth phoning up and moaning about coverage if you want a free Femto.

  18. hugo tyson

    At home....

    ...surely your mobile coverage is not important; if you have t'internet, you also have a landline, so use that. And WiFi for uploading pictures &c.

    Call me old-fashioned?

  19. Anna Logg

    @Femtocell is a crap name

    By the looks of it Technicolor (Thomson consumer electronics in old money) make one of those, apart from the 'open' bit, it supports uPnP as well:-

    Huawei also have a smarter box although not as fancy as the above one:-

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Happy customers.

    "So it's probably worth phoning up and moaning about coverage if you want a free Femto."

    If your contract is due for or near renewal and you don't get great signal already it's probably worth a try - the £50 for the SureSignal is just £2 a month for them over a 2 year contract. It's a cheap way to make customers happy.

    99% of people would not care about the small amount of power it needs and the tiny amount of bandwith it uses - people just want a good signal. If you got poor signal before it probably also increases the battery life on your phone - I can't remember where I read it but apparently they use more power trying to attach to a weak signal or losing / reconnecting to the network.

  21. Anna Logg

    @ hugo tyson

    why not use the landline?

    Personally the vast majority of my calls are incoming, far more people have my mobile number than the landline, so they'll ring my mobile.

    i do still browse t'internet etc. via WiFi on my phone as I don't have a big data allowance (250 MB/month IIRC)

  22. ITBloke
    IT Angle

    Back to the old days

    Funny isnt it, we used to have wires that provided a phone service to our houses and offices, then we all went mobile and the phone line became more useful for internet access, first via modems, then broadband. We now find that mobile covereage isnt good enough to handle everything we need, so someone says, hang on, theres a wire going to those houses, how about we pump all this data down that and over the internet to get round the poor signal problem! And so we come back to our original setup of needing a wire to our houses to use a phone. Ok we can also send more than just voice down it now but fundamentally we have fallen back to 19th century technology to get round a 21st century technological shortfall.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a case of 'now'?

    "We now find that mobile covereage isnt good enough..."

    It's not a case of we 'now' find - mobile coverage has never been good enough for most users. Even in cities with plenty of cell towers some people still do not and probably will never get sufficient coverage. Suresignal / femtocells are the simple solution to that.

    It's a complete no brainer as coverage in the house was not great (regardless of network) and even though we live in a big town - 5 minute install and now we all enjoy 5 bars. It's not just for people who live in basements or in the country.

    IMHO Vodafone / others should either charge a small amount (as they do now) or even give them for free if you don't mind it being 'open' to other people - i.e. visitors to your house / office - or just give them free to all contract customers who have signal issues. £50 (probably cost them less) is a cheap fix and good to retain customers.

    There is no way I would swap to O2 (my previous provider) from Vodafone as with Vodafone I now have 5 bars and O2 used to give me zero to 1 at best.

  24. BB
    Thumb Down


    We have a SureSignal from Vodafone and what they don't tell you before purchasing is that it only supports one data connection at a time. Two or more Blackberries connected via BIS to the network? Only one will have a data connection. Same for iPhones and Android... rendering the unit next to useless beyond voice calls for today's smartphones.

    1. Jean-Paul

      How do you conclude that

      Sounds like you've been talking to an unknowing customer service rep.

      We have three smart phones, and two iPads, all on Vodafone and work quite happily at the same time. Yes I know as sometimes I forget to switch on the Wifi.

      Suresignal is most definitely what keeps me with vodafone. Finally I can use the call allowance on our phones at home, don't have to forward at the bottom of the road to my landline etc. It even improved my quality of life as now I can confidently work from home.

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