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I was talking recently with a friend of mine who is in the femtocell business. We were discussing all the various ways a femtocell could be used and it got me to asking the question: "Who owns the femto bandwidth?"
Before we delve into the ramifications of this question, let me first provide some background to those of you who may not be up to speed on the latest buzzword in the mobile industry.
A femtocell is a very small wireless access point, not unlike the Wifi access point in your home or office. The difference is that the femtocell services the frequencies and modulation schemes owned by your mobile phone operator as opposed to the public methods used by WiFi. The intent of the femtocell is to:
1. Increase service coverage for hard to reach places
2. Gain greater spectrum reuse for maximum channel bandwidth
The deal is, your mobile service provider places a femtocell in your house or place of business and connects it (backhauls) via a broadband service provider connection. The immediate advantage to the consumer or small business is the ability to have 'private' cellular bandwidth and coverage. No more poor connections will be had while in the range of a femtocell and the entire spectral bandwidth of that cell is not being shared with a hundred other simultaneous users. At least in theory.
But what if your mobile carrier has a plan to use the femtocell deployment to eliminate trouble spots in their network? Would the carrier enable third parties to drift into and out of this cell, just like any other cell? After all, this cell is broadcasting the mobile carrier's spectrum. If it is not part of the mobile carrier's cellular network, then the femtocell serves as an interferer to the normal cellular operation. But the question becomes, whose bandwidth is it coming into my house or business? Shouldn't we get a say as to whether other people should be able to route calls through our femtocells? Will people cut deals with their neighbors to allow them to use their femtocell bandwidth, thereby splitting the costs of one femtocell?
This starts to give rise to some interesting legal questions. Obviously the mobile carrier wants me to deploy the femtocell in my house or business and I should welcome the advantages that it provides, but like anything else on my premise, I feel I should get some say in its use. I don't allow other people to access my WiFi, but if I wanted to I could. Will femtocells have the same freedom?
In the end I don't think it really matters what we think because the carriers will find a way to deploy such equipment to their advantage, but I could see there being issues about this before too long. What do you think?
This radio interface increase in bandwidth that the femtocell delivers has to use somebody's backhaul resources. If you have an Internet access service, then like as not, it will be using yours.
Of course, it will not be paying you for the Internet access service bandwidth that it uses to get its calls back to its carrier's switching center. If "your" femtocell is capturing mobile broadband calls, when backhauled through your Internet connection these calls will look just exactly like the 'bandwidth hogs" that are slowing down or stopping your e-mails, web browsing, video streaming, and the like.
This is not exactly a hidden cost, but it definitely impacts the 'value' proposition you bought into when you forked over your cash for that femtocell.