What is an Enterprise Femtocell?

Unlike residential femtocells, which are now being rolled out across the world, enterprise femtocells are still the subject of much anticipation, mixed with confusion and misunderstanding. So here’s an attempt to shed some light on this new application for femtocell technology.

Companies want ubiquitous indoor mobile to boost productivity, to replace inflexible desk phones, to reduce calling costs, and to provide secure mobile broadband speed for corporate apps.


Ubiquisys Enterprise Femtocell

What’s an Enterprise?

The traditional classification of a business is based on the number of employees. These definitions vary region by region, but you end up with broad categories like SoHo, Small and Medium Business (SMB), and Enterprise. But when you’re thinking about in-building mobile, classifying businesses by the number of employees doesn’t make a lot sense – it’s more about the make-up of their buildings, for example:

  • A retail bank with hundreds of small branches and some large HQ buildings
  • A logistics company with a number of depots, comprising warehouse, office and open spaces
  • A corporate enterprise with a mix of office buildings, large and small

The fact is that almost all businesses, large or small, have a variety of buildings. The common factor is the need for something suitable for all buildings, especially the smaller ones.

Aren’t there already In-building Solutions for Enterprises?

There are several solutions that have been around for many years:

  • Picocells: a scaled-down in-building base station, mostly GSM
  • Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS): a network of antennas with a central controller
  • WiFi systems: adapting handset WiFi to provide mobile voice.

So why don’t most companies take advantage of these systems? The simple fact is that they work well with large organisations in large buildings, but are more often uneconomic for the vast majority of smaller buildings, because they require a costly radio planning and installation project. Femtocells are relatively intelligent ‘plug and play’ devices. That makes them an economic solution for smaller buildings, and therefore suitable for almost any type of business.

What’s an Enterprise Femtocell?

Business femtocells have to cover larger areas than home femtocells. There are three key characteristics of business femtocells:

  1. Increased capacity and coverage compared to a residential femtocell, typically to 16 calls and 20dBm
  2. Self Organising Networks (SON) capability so that femtocells can work together to form a grid of coverage with handover between them (a Ubiquisys speciality)
  3. Integrated enterprise convenience features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) and a WiFi access point

Ubiquisys has done all three.

The bottom line is that enterprise femtocells sweep away the complex and expensive job of radio planning, replacing it with invisible ‘black box’ intelligence. This makes ubiquitous mobile even easier to install than a WiFi access point with better security and inbuilt voice services, making enterprise femtocells a cost-effective solution for businesses of all sizes. And that’s why the industry is getting so excited about enterprise femtocells.

Do you or does your company use enterprise femtocells? Are you considering replacing your existing network solution and going the route of femtocells? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • SizeMatters

    How big is this thing? I remember the old Vodafone GSM base station in an office where I used to work – it was quite large, about the size of four shoe boxes…

  • Keith Day

    The devices come in various shapes and sizes as they are designed to order by operators. Key factors that govern the size are the output power and optional extras like Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) and WiFi.

    The wall-mounted model pictured is pretty typical though, and stands 18cm (7 inches) tall – about the same size as a hardback book.

  • Mark Evans

    Hi,

    When will these be commercially available? I can find no pricing anywhere and even reviewing the networks’ web sites there is precious little information. I am keen to move away from landlines within my organisation and the ability to offer excellent signal quality and “clean” lines makes tremendous sense to me.

    Regards,

    Mark

  • Keith Day

    Hi Mark,

    The first enterprise femtocells are being offered in various places around the world, and more will come on stream in 2011. Unfortunately none of those are in the UK at the moment.

    In the meantime, Vodafone is offering its SureSignal product in the UK, which is an individual unit suitable for homes and small offices.

    All the best,

    Keith

  • Keith Day

    Hi Mark,

    The first enterprise femtocells are being offered in various places around the world, and more will come on stream in 2011. Unfortunately none of those are in the UK at the moment.

    In the meantime, Vodafone is offering its SureSignal product in the UK, which is an individual unit suitable for homes and small offices.

    All the best,

    Keith

  • http://www.alcatel-lucent.com/wireless/femto_small_cells.html Dan

    I’ve heard that there are now Femtocells the size of memory sticks.