Press release -

Can Femtocells ease traffic congestion across mobile networks?

Leading accountants, Deloitte, reckon that aggregate smartphone traffic in 2015 will be 47 times greater than it is today. This exponential rate of growth is just one reason why the volume of data traffic passing across mobile networks is threatening to jam up the whole system.

How the mobile operators are going to meet this urgent challenge is a matter for fierce debate with the whole concept of " net neutrality " being called into question. If things get to the point where providers start to give priority to some services over others, then obviously the neutrality which has so far endured will be severely compromised. Operators might very well be tempted to prioritise traffic depending on time sensitivity with live football scores, for example, being given priority over emails.

The other alternative is to invest far more in expanding network capacities but this would inevitably need to be financed to a large extent by phone users who will be expected to pay more depending on their personal usage.

While all this is going on, help might soon start to arrive from an unlikely source in the form of much faster speeds and much larger capacity across the broadband network. The big fibre optic players like Fujitsu, working in tandem with Cisco, are poised to unleash major advances in internet speeds and capacity which would open up the Internet as an alternative avenue along which to channel far more voice and data traffic and provide significant relief to the beleaguered airwaves.

Technology to divert traffic over the Internet already exists and one piece of kit, a "femtocell" of the kind produced by major telecoms equipment manufacturers, can be produced cheaply and in large numbers. One of the mobile giants has already introduced femtocells to customers since they also have the added advantage of providing 5 bar signal strength in buildings such as homes and small offices where reception is erratic.

A femtocell works like a miniature base station and creates a cellphone network within a building. It's about the size of a domestic router orpaperback book and, when connected to the Internet, it diverts data and voice traffic down the wires instead of across congested airwaves. Considering how stretched the mobile networks are getting, every femtocell therefore acts like a storm drain relieving pressure on the system. The research firm, Berg Insight, estimates that femtocell shipments reached almost 2 million by the end of 2010, a figure which they project should reach 12 million units worldwide in 2014.

Admittedly, consumers benefit from having 5 bar signal strength within a range of about 10 metres but, by buying a femtocell, they are, in effect, paying to help solve their carrier's capacity problems. One can only speculate as to whether the mobile operators will soon decide to distribute femtocells free of charge. Since 2/3rds of mobile traffic originates or terminates in the home or office, having all this travelling over high speed broadband at the customer's expense would surely have a noticeable impact on the volumes passing across the mobile networks


  • Telecommunication, mobile telephony


  • femtocells


  • England

Alcatel-Lucent holds 25 mobile operator commercial femtocell deployment agreements and is supporting more than 20 trials. Publicly announced customers include: Telefonica in Spain, Etisalat and du in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), MegaFon in Russia, and Vodafone Group, who selected Alcatel-Lucent as its preferred vendor for nationwide “Sure Signal” femtocell services in the UK and New Zealand.