The Femto Forum, the independent industry association that supports femtocell deployment worldwide, has outlined the case for offload using femtocells in a publicly available white paper. The paper outlines how femtocells significantly increase mobile network capacity and efficiency while also lowering operators’ costs and providing an improved user experience for both indoor and outdoor users.
Data offload has become a key industry issue because the vast majority of rapidly growing data traffic originates indoors where mobile networks are least effective and where it could be offloaded to fixed broadband.
Due to the increased penetration of data hungry devices such as smartphones and dongles, mobile data is growing at an annual rate of 108%, according to Cisco.
Informa Telecoms & Media estimates that 81% of this data originates from homes and offices where it could frequently be offloaded on to local broadband connections. The incentive to offload indoor users is especially great because of the considerable cellular resources that are expended on penetrating buildings.
A related Femto Forum study found that one indoor user uses the same capacity as ten outdoor users thereby significantly impacting the number of users that can be supported in a cell.
Femtocells allow the vast, and ever increasing, amount of data being consumed indoors to be offloaded from the macro network. Not only does this significantly improve the femtocell user’s mobile broadband experience, it also improves the experience of outdoor users by freeing capacity in the macro cellular network.
Uniquely, femtocell offload allows users to use all their existing services, whether voice, data or SMS, and all cellular devices including feature phones, smart phones and mobile broadband enabled laptops. Crucially the service is also seamless, requires no set-up and is managed by the operator to guarantee quality of service.
From an operator perspective, femtocells offer a vastly more efficient means of adding capacity to mobile networks and focusing it exactly where it is required. Using the Femtocell Business Case Model developed by the Femto Forum and Signals Research Group, the white paper study reveals that a femtocell can lower the cost per GB of data delivered by four times with current technology and significantly more using a forward-looking scenario.
Beyond the economics of data traffic offload of the radio access network (RAN) and the backhaul network, the use of femtocells for offload leads to several other important benefits. First, the cost of data delivery can be further reduced by offloading the growing level of smart phone signalling traffic managed by the radio network controller (RNC).
Second, since the femtocell is an extension of the 3G/4G network, revenue-generating traffic remains on operator network. And third, femtocells allow operators to respond to data usage spikes much more quickly and in a more targeted way than outdoor base stations which can take up to a few years to deploy.
“The mobile data boom – and the increased demand on capacity it has led to – is the biggest challenge currently facing mobile networks,” said Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum. “Femtocells represent the natural solution for offloading this data. They allow mobile operators to significantly improve the mobile broadband experience as well as their other services without incurring the costs that macro upgrades would require. The fact that outdoor users also benefit is the icing on the cake.”