The femtocell movement has seen its share of fits and starts. That’s not stopping the WiMAX Forum and the Femto Forum from publishing a new standard for WiMAX femtocells.

“Standards are central to the success of new mobile technologies so this represents a major milestone for WiMAX femtocells. Femtocells add a powerful tool to the WiMAX arsenal by allowing operators to cost-effectively improve coverage indoors and in rural areas while also adding capacity in urban locations,” said Ron Resnick, president and chairman of the WiMAX Forum.

Femtocells create mini wireless base stations within a customer location, residence or business. In simplistic terms, its equivalent to a mini wireless tower within one’s home/business, greatly expanding coverage for that location. Generally speaking, femtocells route wireless traffic over a customer’s existing broadband connection (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc), relieving the wireless operator from carrying that traffic over their wireless network.

WiMAX Forum femtocell specifications “incorporate a security framework that allows WiMAX networks to support a large number of access points via standard commercial IPSec based security gateways.” The standard is also supporting three usage models:

  • The ‘Open Model’ allows the femtocell to operate like a normal WiMAX base station by allowing anyone to use the service
  • ‘Closed Subscriber Group (CSG) Closed’ allows a limited number of pre-allocated subscribers to use the femtocell.
  • The ‘Closed Subscriber Group (CSG) Open’ extends the previous model to allow the subscriber to add users themselves.

The femtocell movement is of particular interest to rural wireline carriers because it conceivably rectifies the problem of poor wireless coverage within rural homes, encouraging customers to cut the wireline cord more easily. Absent those femtocells, those same customers may have been less likely to cut the cord because of poor wireless reception.

Femtocells have yet to prove their worth, despite years of hype. Momentum is building though, with AT&T probably the most aggressive femtocell provider. The WiMAX Forum expects to begin certifying  WiMAX femtocells sometime in 2011.

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