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Femtocells, VOIP, and cordless phones synthesis?

It has been a big change taking a lot of time. The landline telephone network started development just a bit over 100 years ago. Cable TV is less than half that and its expansion into networking is less than half of that. Cell phones have an age similar to cable networking of only a couple of decades.

It was a big deal when cordless phones could replace the old telephone sets in homes. Now that technology is up to DECT 6.0 standards with many features and, just as that standard is taking hold, another technology is encroaching on its territory.

Cordless household phones were only a small step towards wireless freedom. Those phones have only limited range and are still rather bulky. Cell phones, on the other hand, can be used nearly anywhere and are small, convenient, and packed with many features that make them much more than just a telephone. That is why the wired connections to houses business is shrinking.

Back towards the 1970’s you had to have specially certified equipment to connect to the telephone network and that network was the only readily available public method for communications. That gave Amateur Radio operators headaches as they built the interface between their hobby equipment and the telephone networks to extent the utility of their services in emergencies. It also raised costs on early data modems and other equipment that connected computing devices.

That monopoly was broken and now the back end networks are separated from front end consumer access points. Ironing out the standards to keep all of these parts functionally integrated has been a difficult process and is still suffering rough spots. What has happened is that there are now many ways to get into and out of the back end network and cost and pricing pressures are stimulating innovation.

VOIP is old hat now. The next step may be that of circumventing the front end cell network to be able to use common cell phones to connect more directly to less expensive I’net service points while still retaining the cell network access. This is where the femtocell idea comes in. (see Airvana Femtocell Technology)

Femtocells have the potential to transform communications by making the mobile device the tool of choice even in home settings.  However, vendors and operators face substantial technical challenges to realize the potential of femtocells.  For example, femtocells will increase the number of base stations by several orders of magnitude over the existing “macro” base station infrastructures.  This increase will demand new approaches to areas such as mobility and interference mitigation.  At such volumes, femtocell vendors will also need to follow an aggressive cost curve.  Femtocells will require new approaches to installation and configuration, because they will be installed by non-technical users.

Where the shift occurs is in the purchase of I’net services via an ISP and then using various service providers for such things as addressing such as telephone numbers and access methods. The interface out the the PSTN (public service telephone network) is the province of VOIP providers and they use either computer audio (e.g. Skype) or dedicated phone set to I’net devices (e.g. Vonage, Teleblend) or phone set to computer interfaces (typically USB) like Magicjack. These devices make it possible to use an existing I’net backbone like a regular telephone and that means that the costs for long distance and other such features are paid for in a customized way between your ISP and your VOIP provider.

Now it looks like Magicjack is going to provide a femtocell option (CES PSA) to build on their POTS to USB service interface. This means that you can ‘introduce’ your cell phone to the femtocell and then your cell phone calls will use that access point rather than a cell phone tower when you are in range of the femtocell. Since you don’t access the cell network, your cell phone provider should not charge you for the use of the phone when using the femtocell. What that means is that your cell phone acts like an old cordless phone around home except that is will still work when you are away from home, will be more compact, and may still have many features the cordless doesn’t have.

The portability aspects for travelers also have interesting implications. The Magicjack is intended to be portable so it can be used wherever there is a decent high speed I’net connection. If their femtocell works the same way, it means that you can reduce cell phone costs when traveling if you have access to a motel or RV park or other public access broadband service with your laptop.

Exactly when this will happen is a question. Magicjack has promised number porting and Linux capable software as being available ‘Real Soon Now’ and the wait has been extended. Someday. And someday, the femtocell, too. It is coming together and the pace, if looking back, is breathtaking. But seeing what is in the pipe can still be a frustration of anticipation.

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  1. […] a background on what is going on here, see Femtocells, VOIP, and cordless phones synthesis?. What the PhysOrg comment alarmism misses is the fact there are currently cell phone repeaters that […]

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