Rory Cellan-Jones

A Phone Mast in Your Front Room

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 12 Feb 08, 07:06 GMT

It's a little white box with a somewhat bizarre name but the Femtocell will have more impact on the way we use phones than any of the flashy new handsets unveiled here. It is device which creates a mini 3g network inside your home and then introduces your mobile to your broadband connection.

The idea is that this means you will not only get a much better signal but be able to receive a lot of services on your mobile that may be difficult to access when you are on the move – catch-up TV, for instance. The mobile operators love the idea because it offers them a cheap way of extending their networks and gets them into the home to compete against fixed-line businesses and VOIP.

Plenty of big firms are showing off Femtocell technology – but a small British start-up Ubiquisys looks to have a good chance of getting the first product onto the market. Its technology is being used in a British trial by O2 and there could be a commercial launch within a year.

Chris Gilbert of Ubiquisys is keen to stress that the Femtocell uses very little power - “An RF engineer would struggle to detect it in your home”- so those who are concerned about health risks from phone masts should no more worry about a Femtocell than about next door's microwave oven.

This is the one device I've seen in Barcelona that really stands out from the crowd in its ability to change the game, But I still think they need to do something about that name.


  • 1.
  • At 08:04 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • David Keppler wrote:

Cant wait for this technology to get to the home. I live and work in areas that have bad signal and no 3G, so this looks to be a simple wway to get better service and some new features.

On another note, I love the little video interviews from your phone, really brings the event alive. I think it's a sucsess and hope you do more.


  • 2.
  • At 08:13 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Aaron wrote:

It seems to me that most people have wireless broadband in their homes. Therefore as more phones get wi-fi capability, such as the iPhone, the femtocell will become another technology that is forgotten about before it catches on.

  • 3.
  • At 08:45 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Tony Roberts wrote:

This could be one of the best developments since the Internet! I live on the top of a remote fell in Cumbria with no mobile signal (the nearest pick-up point for a signal is two miles away) the ability to have this in your home and stay 'connected' would be fantastic!

  • 4.
  • At 09:27 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Paolo Via wrote:

"I still think they need to do something about that name." and so your suggestion is "A Phone Mast in Your Front Room"!!!

After the Panorama Wi-Fi debacle I would have thought that the BBC would have warned it's journalists away from using sensationalist headlines or themes.

That is a great idea!

Short of fitting phones with a completely new level of connectivity.

I don't know how much use that would get though since mobile phones serve a majority of their function outside of the home or office, there a network of these will not exist?

If you are going to use this inside, why not just do it on a computer?

Correct me if I'm wrong?

This all sounds very good, but with doubts over the long term effects of EMF from mobile phones, DECT phones, Mobile Phone Masts and WIFI routers in our houses, is this another peice of equipment to add to the already EMF smog in our homes and schools?

I am a techno kid and I love this kind of technologhy, but I think we need to be careful with wireless technology in our homes. In my own home I have just gone back to using wires to connect to broadband, I don't realy miss having wifi everywhere in the house, I tend to always sit in the same place anyway!

  • 7.
  • At 10:42 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Simon wrote:

Looking at the article and the comments I'd say someone living in a remote, no coverage area would love the fact their mobile could now ring in the house (only my mother uses our landline). We faced this problem when living in a village near Winchester, so not so far off the beaten track.

Now we live in London and I think the comments about simply using the PC are valid. If there is some "must use" service on your phone then increasingly WiFi enabled handsets will allow you broadband access on the phone without paying data rates (which I presume is why the operators want this in the living room before its too late).

Finally, thank you for all the Barcelona stuff. I run the European operation of a mobile services business and am in bed with flu instead of prowling the Fira halls. I might stay at home next year too and trust to Mr Cellan-Jones.

  • 8.
  • At 11:23 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Derek wrote:

It would be nice to get gas at my home let alone 3G

  • 9.
  • At 11:54 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Robbo wrote:

A solution without a problem.

If I want to connect to the internet at home I do it on my 22" monitor, not my 2" mobile phone.

  • 10.
  • At 11:56 AM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

Its a wireless broadband router?

Next seen on 'Where are they now? in around 2009'.

  • 11.
  • At 12:00 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Neil wrote:

If you are at home you have the internet, TV, landline so what would you be doing that needs a 2 inch screen on your mobile.

Technology for the sake of selling you services.


  • 12.
  • At 12:00 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Nicola Hart wrote:

I agree with the last comment. With more and more studies showing the mechanisms for damage to the cells of the body it seems to be foolish and short sighted to add yet another technology in our homes that has never been properly tested. We need to limit our exposure not increase our dose..especially where we and our children sleep.

  • 13.
  • At 12:09 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • fred ashmore wrote:

This thing has to be "The Mobile Home".

  • 14.
  • At 12:19 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Elaine wrote:

I will not have these electrosmog emitting devices in my home.

Why, because the radiation from the nearby phone base stations/WiFi gave me terrible headaches and made sleeping difficult for months. No. I do not use a microwave oven.

I have now bought 'Pilkington K' glass windows to reduce the high frequency radiation levels in my home and on my pillows and the headaches and sleeping problems have stopped.

There is increasing evidence that the technology is far from safe. And, that current permitted exposure levels are grossly excessive.

The manufacturer claims they emit low levels of radiation. Would they like to state precisely the levels of power flux density in 'microwatts per square metre' that is measured at different distances away from the transmitters - and the other side of the party wall? Just how much will be inflicted on neighbours 24/7?

I am staying with landline telephone and cable connection to the Internet.

  • 15.
  • At 12:21 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Judith Priest wrote:

Errr isn't the point of a mobile that it's 'mobile'? With my landline, broadband and Sky+ I really can't think of any base I haven't got covered communications-wise.

  • 16.
  • At 12:23 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • osk wrote:

Obsolete before launch.

Universal Wi-Fi is the way to go. Look to the east, South Korea, Japan.. that's the way to go..

Can't beleive there is any hype about this old 3g thing.


  • 17.
  • At 12:23 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Sean Needham wrote:

In a few years time, most mobiles will have the WiFi connectivity regardless, this looks like something that is going to be a stop gap measure for users in the meantime.

The WiFi technology, as stated before, is already there on some mobiles (iPhone and some Nokia hand sets). And with this, especially on the new Nokia kit, it is possible to use the phone through the internet anyway.

Perhaps the technology would catch on to bring mobiles to the remote and rural areas, but on a whole, it seems something too little too late...

  • 18.
  • At 12:29 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Jon wrote:

Whats the point of this ? When I'm at home I tend to use my home phone - and why would I want to watch catch-up TV on a mobile when I've got my plasma screen in the lounge ? This looks like another solution thats trying to find a proble

  • 19.
  • At 12:36 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • osk wrote:

Obsolete before launch.

Universal Wi-Fi is the way to go. Look to the east, South Korea, Japan.. that's the way to go..

Who wants to have a box at home to go online on the tiny screen on your mobile when you had a computer with a big screen and proper keyboard?
Are you suppose to carry your phone and this extra box with you?
Does it work on batteries?

Rubbish, rubbish

Can't beleive there is any hype about this old 3g thing.

If you are at home you have the internet, TV, landline so what would you be doing that needs a 2 inch screen on your mobile.

Technology for the sake of selling you services.


  • 21.
  • At 12:42 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • John Constable wrote:

I think that 3G has been a total disaster from the mobile companies .... all they can think about in the UK is how to get some sort of return on the £22Bn they paid Gorgon Brown for 3G licences.

Just to rub salt in the wounds, along comes WiMax, which unlike 3G is totally scaleable and works off a single mast in a 12-16 mile radius.

No wonder countries like the USA are calling WiMax 4G and others who are starting from scratch, like Pakistan, are going for WiMax.

  • 22.
  • At 12:51 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Max wrote:

What about phones that already connect with a "Skype" button technology anywhere in the world for next to no charge subject to both users having a phone or computer?

  • 23.
  • At 12:59 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Nanook wrote:

I've heard this story on the Chris Evans Show on Radio2 a few weeks ago. The business woman there interviewed the chap - and it really sounds like this is a very good idea with 'legs'.
There are other firms who are developing similar systems (although the guy at Ubiquisys claims he's got at least 6 months headstart) - so I suspect a few of these devices will be cropping up soon. I may wait and see...

  • 24.
  • At 01:10 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Andrew wrote:

I think people are missing the point. Most of us have a mobile phone and incur charges (if outside our bundled minutes). A significant proporation of calls are made to and from subscribers when at home. The femto solution allows your mobile phone to "roam" onto your local "cell" and then mobile carriers would offer lower cost calls via that phone. This off loads the core network allowing better performance and contention on the main infrastructure. I have poor cellular coverage at home and a local ccell would improve that situation.
Regarding data - wifi, wimax etc do not allow for totally transparent mobile roaming experiences - more and more devices will be come 3G/HSDPA and LTE aware so increasing the benefit of having your own local cell.
Mobile Broadband is now a real alternative to fixed DSL - rather than having to manually switch between fixed infrastructure (wifi and wimax) why not have one inclusive tarrif for all broadband - including mobile that roams transparently as you move? Thats the triple/quad play that the carriers are talking about.

  • 25.
  • At 01:20 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Behn K wrote:

Yes in a few years most phones will have wifi, but most of the comments forget that a) there are MANY people out there who do not update their phones to take into account the latest features b) There are MANY communities that have no access to the mobile network.
Imagine being the landlord of a pub in one of these area's and having one of these!

  • 26.
  • At 01:22 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Norbury wrote:

Elaine, do you think that having new windows might have improved your home environment in other ways than cutting down 'electrosmog'? Believe what you like, but there is no evidence for it, let alone increasing evidence.

  • 27.
  • At 01:40 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Sean Murricane wrote:

Wasn't this called "Rabbit" in the late 80's?

  • 28.
  • At 01:41 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • cad wrote:

The point of having a femtocell in your house or workplace is not so you can watch TV on your handset but to make telephone calls on a single handset whether your at home or away, its known as Universal Mobile Telephone System. It also allows operators to fill holes in there coverage. The owner of the femtocell will be able to rent out capacity on their broadband connection to neighbours, colleagues and total strangers via the 3G connection.
WLAN is a contender for this business but handing off between WLAN and 3G or between different WLAN hotspots seamlessly isnt sorted yet.

  • 29.
  • At 02:07 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Paul wrote:

I think the name is brilliant because its exactly what's in the box.

GSM providers have been using picocells for years - a femtocell is smaller with more limited coverage.

Anything that helps peple understand the metric prefixes** will help to alleviate mathematical igorance. I wonder if our technology guru didn't know the origin?

Going down in thousandths:
milli, micro, nano, pico, femto, atto
Going up in thousands:
kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta, exa

The first four prefixes of each scale are in common use these days in technology - and the Femtocell is not the first use of the fifth member of a scale that I've encountered; there are Petaflop computers around.

PS - a nanometre is the same order of magnitude as the amount fingernails grow in one second

  • 30.
  • At 02:40 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Alan wrote:

A lot of people seem to be asking "What is the point of this when I can use use my PC?" - that seems like a silly argument to me, maybe you're all missing the point?

I live in a very rural area of the New Forest, and none of the current mobile operators provide any reliable service of any kind in my area - however, I do have broadband Internet access.

If I can relay my mobile phone through my broadband account so much the better. I use my mobile number for business and other uses where it would be inappropriate to share my home landline number.

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I look forward to seeing which of the mobile providers take it up.

  • 31.
  • At 04:26 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Paolo Via wrote:

@John Constable
"Just to rub salt in the wounds, along comes WiMax, which unlike 3G is totally scaleable and works off a single mast in a 12-16 mile radius."

Someone took Intel's marketing to heart then!

So Australia running HSPA cells at 120 Miles radius with 1.2 Mbps at cell edge is inferior exactly how? Oh, and that's commercial, not theory.

Have you looked at Sweden recently, or Ireland? More people are signing up for Mobile Broadband over HSPA there than are taking DSL. Then when they go to UK, Germany, Australia, Japan..... (or just stab your finger on an atlas) the same device will work. With WiMAX, you can go to Milton Keynes, Swindon or be a Sprint or Motorola employee in Chicago, and that's yer lot.

More hype than the iPhone, and less believers in the faith.

  • 32.
  • At 04:47 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Drew wrote:

Just a quick point on the fears about the effects of the EM radiation that might be involved here. Modern mobiles are able to determine how much power they need to punt out to reach the nearest receiver and to preserve battery life will automatically reduce the power of their transmission if the receiver is close. Given the the density of the radiation reduces in proportion to the square of the distance, having a mobile next to your ear is likely to be exposing you to far more EMR than having a mast at the end of your street. So actually having a receiver in your room will probably lower your exposure as your mobile will be putting out much less oomph.

  • 33.
  • At 05:33 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • femtofriend wrote:


Do you by any chance sell "radiation-proof" clothing or "electrosmog helmets" for a living? I'm happy for you that the new windows were exactly the placebo you need to overcome your headaches - much healthier than aspirin!

On another note, femtos use less than 100 times less energy than a WiFi router and - depending on the strength of the signal from the macro network - will allow your phone to stay alive much longer on a single charge.

However, I don't see a business model that could allow operators to subsidise a £200 box for people to put in their home just to offload their backhaul costs. What are the new services? When can I use my Nokia as a TV remote (assuming your set-top box is connected to your home network)? Femtos are great tech but someone needs to work on what exactly they will use them for (apart from those living outside mobile coverage who I assume would be happy to pay for the kit themselves?).

  • 34.
  • At 05:40 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • John Cahill wrote:

Surely, if you were at home and wanted to watch catch-up TV you'd watch it on a TV/Monitor rather than a tiny screen; in the latter case paying for the priviledge of ruining your eyesight!

  • 35.
  • At 06:02 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Stuart wrote:

BT have been doing this for ages with their Fusion product! Your phone seamlessly switches from the GSM network to your home WiFi or an OpenZone hotspot when in range (even when you're on a call) allowing for cheaper calls and internet access.

It hasn't really taken off though as there doesn't seem to be a demand for it and I think the same goes for this.

  • 36.
  • At 06:13 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Chris Burke wrote:

Have a closer look at the company - Ubiquisys has serious investors (Google) and partners. I did some research and Nokia, Motorola, NEC and Netgear are all using their femtocell. Look at the O2 announcement Here in Barcelona, it is the hottest company - I cannot wait until this actually deploys in my country.

How on earth did they come up with the name Ubiquisys?

  • 37.
  • At 07:43 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • UM wrote:

Like the Nokia guy talking about the new handsets was saying: is this convergence of technologies or competing technologies? As a customer cost is important to me, I want to have affordable broadband/phone at home. If the mobile operators can match ADSL costs, and provide seamless handover from the umbrella-cell to the pico-cell then this technology would be a hit.

If as a user I have to pay more, and manually switch from one connectivity form to another, I might stick with my 802.11 router and use GSM outside and VoIP at home. Let's wait and see. This technology is still 5 years away.

  • 38.
  • At 08:27 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • Dorothy wrote:

I'm not technical at all. I am moving to Spain about five years and will not have a land line in the forseeable future, let alone Wifi. I would be really interested in this if it can solve the problem.

I want something that will boost my mobile signals to give me reliable connection to my computer so I can use broadband without a land line. If this will work its definitely what I am looking for.

There are thousands (millions if you include europe) of people who don't live in high population density areas and don't have the luxury of using reliable Wifi, and may have to wait many for reliable broadband connectivity.

  • 39.
  • At 11:30 PM on 12 Feb 2008,
  • David wrote:

I am not clear how the femtocell connects to the rest of the mobile network, does it use broadband internet?

On another point, I have a mobile HSDPA modem at the moment, which is handy as I travel around a lot, but the UK carrier has throttled it back to 1.2Mbs, even though the network and modem are capable of 7Mbs. When the train comes in at my nearby railway station, my share of the network is reduced and it drops down to UMTS, disconnecting my VPN connection in the process as it switches

  • 40.
  • At 01:38 PM on 13 Feb 2008,
  • Michael Bond wrote:

I would snap one of these up straight away if T-Mobile in the UK offered one ( they do offer a similar product in the States called T-Mobile @Home which uses Wi-Fi). I live on the side of a valley and the mobile phone reception is pretty awful, but we are wired for Virginmedia cable so the broadband is pretty solid here and this product would be perfect for me.

  • 41.
  • At 11:13 PM on 15 Feb 2008,
  • Fred wrote:

I can't really see much benefit in having it. It just increases the RF pollution and will need to sit alongside the well established Wifi router found in many households - no thanks. Nokia and others may be investing, but how many failed ventures have they invested in before? - not easily known because they're are not around for long!

The "Weakest Link" springs to mind.

Good points made elsewhere about skype/fring/wifi smartphones creeping into wider distribution, and already offering an alternative at low terminating cost (although femtos give another chance to use up your mobile bundled mins).

However, in addition many people are ditching slow copper DSL home broadband (kerching £200/year to BT) for mobile broadband, so there is no fixed broadband to connect to, or incentive to go femto (or is that "radio mast in your home"). You'll generally have good 3g/hspa coverage if you've elected for mobile broadband.

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