A commonly-asked question around femtocells is the question of what advantage they confer to data devices, in the case where both the device and the broadband gateway also have WiFi access. Is there any advantage in keeping the data on the femto connection, given that many millions of people are now routinely using WiFi set-ups with security keys & SSIDs, without much hassle or confusion?
I've been thinking about this, as it also fits with some work I've been doing on offloading 3G cellular traffic, and the role of fixed operators (DSL/cable) in providing additional capabilities or grooming services, going from purely independent offload, to a more collaborative "managed offload" scenario where the fixed and mobile operators work together, even if they are not sister companies.
One scenario I can envisage is this: a homeowner has a relatively low-tier home broadband service, say a 4Mbit/s connection, although the local copper could support 10Mbit/s. Now, consider if the user purchased a mobile broadband service offering "up to 7.2Mbit/s", for which the operator also supplied a femtocell in the hope of offloading some of the traffic generated while the user is at home.
There is is an argument that attaching the 7Mbit/s femto to a 4MBit/s ADSL line is actually against consumer protection law - the customer is legitimately paying money for a mobile broadband service which, at least theoretically, should be able to get to 7Mbit/s. If he uses his laptop or smartphone at 3am next to the cell tower, he should be able to attain peak speeds. But with the femto, it ceases to be even theoretically possible, because the backhaul won't support it. Potentially, the connection would *slower* than if the user just unplugged the femto and went back to the macro coverage.
It's not really the operator's fault - the customer has chosen to have a low-spec ADSL service. But the experience is unsatisfactory nevertheless.
However, now consider that the mobile operator pays a small sum to the ADSL provider to "over-provision" capacity to a certain IP address range (ie the femto gateway). Perhaps $2 per month to permit bursts of headroom up to a total 8Mbit/s, as long as total volumes don't exceed 2GB.
Everyone is a winner in this scenario - the user gets blazing-fast connections via the femto, which actually perform better than his own WiFi. The mobile operator offloads more traffic & has a customer with more loyalty. And the fixed operator gets a bit of extra revenue which pretty much goes straight to the bottom line.