Femtocells – much more than a signal booster


Femtocells. Get used to that word because you’ll be hearing it a lot more in the future. Vodafone’s release of their signal boosting hub this week is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what femtocells is capable of.

US company Airvana and Sanjeev Verma, vice president of femtocell business, have just given me a demo of their HubBub femtocells and its ‘party alert’ application.

Basically, the HubBub sits in the house and, as well as solving any coverage issues by providing a stronger network using an existing broadband connection, it can monitor activity in the house.


Activity such as comings and goings. The scenario they showed me involved two ‘daughters’ arriving home from a day’s shopping only to be joined by a boyfriend and then two other friends. Each time an SMS was sent to my phone to alert me of the arrivals. The HubBub can be programmed to automatically sync and back-up phone contacts, so it knew the names of all of the daughter’s friends. Alerts could have been sent not only by SMS but by email, tweets, Facebook updates and so on.

But if the Vodafone release this week was just the tip of the iceberg then ‘party-alert’ is just, well, the bit below the tip. Femtocells has, in the words of Sanjeev Verma the power to “fundamentally transform the way mobile networks are built and then deployed”.

Not by simply monitoring activity in the house and giving you a good mobile signal but by completely changing the way people deal with their data and networks. For example, Airvana also demonstrated an app whereby photos taken using the daughters’ mobile phones were automatically detected by the HubBub and synced to a PC. These photos could have just as easily been sent to social networking sites, other phones or a photo service such as flickr. No need for cables, no need to sit down and transfer pictures. It was done automatically and it was done quickly due to the large bandwidth femtocells allows for.

And it’s not just photos, femtocells has the potential to manage any digital data. Sanjeev envisages an app store to rival that of Apple’s, where developers will come up with ways of using femtocells to enhance all aspects of digital life – whether that be gaming, music, films or anything else for that matter.

He sees the potential to advertisers as huge, he describes the possibility of “land-grabbing” marketing and promotion. Femtocells will be able to access your phone, your laptop, your netbook, your everything basically. If you are suddenly showing an interest in a new band then femtocells will know. If you suddenly start looking at a lot of car insurance websites then femtocells will know. Obviously you don’t have to allow femtocells to know anything if you don’t want it to. But then you’d miss out on offers or information that you might be really interested in.

Because of the relative cheapness of femtocells – in affect it ceases the need for building and maintaining transmitters for the networks – and the fact that most of the work for femtocell will be done by the ‘smart’ devices that connect to it; phones, computers and so on – the potential for femtocells’ growth is huge.

In the short time expect femtocells to be introduced by more mobile providers to increase signal coverage in the home. In the medium term expect femtocells to promote more family and home based services such as family calling plans and apps like ‘party alert’. In the long term expect femtocells to know everything about you – what you like, who you like and what you’re going to be doing in every aspect of your life. Expect to know all about femtocell sometime soon.

Check out Airvana’s website for more info.