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8/23/2006
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Small, Cheap Boosters Beef Up Cell Phone Coverage

Inexpensive base stations, called "femtocells," could be deployed indoors to boost cell coverage and eliminate dropped signals inside buildings. Femtocells could also be used to offer additional services like Voice over IP and IPTV, according to a study.

A new technology called femtocells could help spread cellular coverage quickly and inexpensively inside buildings where it has been problematic to receive signals.

In fact, femtocells--small base stations designed for use in homes and offices--will attract over 100 million users in the next five years, according to a study released by ABI Research on Wednesday.

Telecom operators will be installing femtocells to make their networks more efficient and to provide better cellular coverage inside buildings. Traffic will be routed using the Internet Protocol, which means operators could offer additional services like voice over IP and IPTV to their subscribers.

ABI forecasts there will be 102 million users of femtocell equipment on 32 million access points worldwide by 2011.

A number of technology vendors are trying to address indoor wireless coverage with distributed antenna systems, repeaters, and in-building base stations. But deploying such systems can be costly, depending on the building's size, the number of carriers supported, and the number of users.

Spotwave Wireless' SpotCell Indoor Coverage products include a system to capture an outdoor cellular network and repeat the signal indoors. Motorola plans to sell its own indoor wireless system aimed at spreading cellular signals through large buildings. RadioFrame Networks also plans to sell base stations through carriers to amplify GSM cell phones in homes and offices.

Femtocell technology is the latest to tackle the problem of dropped calls and poor reception indoors, which many cellular subscribers still experience. The research firm, however, warns that the femtocell technology is still very young and needs to be standardized.

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