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Small cells

Femtocells on the Rise

5:30 PM -- I continue to see numerous articles and other writing about femtocells. These are, if you’re not so blessed, most often mentioned in conjunction with WiMax deployments, the idea being to build out a network supporting mobile WiMax without installing great big expensive cell sites with a large (kilometers) radius of coverage. This idea is hardly new, but it could become a popular strategy nonetheless. In fact, it should.

How not new? The concept, then called microcells, was discussed during the original PCS deployments back in the mid 1990s. A number of designs were previewed, mostly oriented around hanging equipment from power lines or mounting it on telephone poles. I absolutely loved (and continue to love) this idea; rapid frequency reuse is a key to more capacity, the ultimate limitation in any mobile infrastructure. And WiFi uses this technique, although in this case, because of regulatory limitations on transmission power output.

It may very well be that combined WiMax/WiFi femtocells become common in urban areas. After all, if you’re going to install one of these technologies, why not do both at the same time, in the same real estate? The actual cost of components is very low, and the real expense is in amortizing installation expense, which includes legal bills and mounting rights. Femtocells are a great idea and may become the next big thing, but they’re not new. And, often, the best stuff isn’t.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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