Apple looks at ways to support femtocells in boosting wireless signals in homes, small offices

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,119,141) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for ubiquitous access to a femtocell-connected network. A femtocell is a small, low-power cellular base station typically reserved for use in a home or small business. 

A femtocell is, basically, a miniature cell phone tower that anyone can use to boost their wireless signal in their home. Most of the major U.S. wireless carriers sell femtocells, as do other retailers, and they can typically be purchased for US$150 to $250. Such a device, which resembles a wireless router, essentially acts as a repeater. The device communicates with the mobile phone and converts voice calls into voice over IP (VoIP) packets. The packets are then transmitted over a broadband connection to the mobile operator's servers.

There are pros and cons to using a femtocell. One plus is that the coverage is likely to remain consistent wherever you are located in the office/home. It also makes it easier to use your mobile phone as your main phone, something more and more folks are doing.  Femtocells can limit how many people are permitted to log on, restricting coverage. It makes using a femtocell in a small office attractive.

However, there are drawbacks. Femtocells utilize the broadband connection, which may also be used for other applications such as video streaming. There can be problems when the provider of the broadband service differs from the mobile network provider. It's also possible that in a crowded environment, such as an apartment building, there could be interference between femtocells.

Apple's patent is for a system and method of enabling a mobile device to communicate with a local IP network host and an external IP network host using a femto cellular access point on a femto cellular access network. The invention would provide a method and system for allowing multiple devices that are coupled through a femto cell, such as user equipment and network terminal devices, to communicate with each other while the user equipment is located within the femto cell or while the user equipment is located outside the femto cell. 

The invention also allows the user equipment to communicate with home-based devices, such as data storage devices, printing devices or other devices. According to Apple's patent, the femto cellular access network includes an LTE network, an EVDO network connected to an EPC, or a WiMax 802.16e/m network connected to the EPC.

Apple says that various structures are located within the area served by a large cell tower may obstruct, reflect or otherwise interfere with the wireless signals. Poor reception is associated with inferior quality of service by the mobile user.

Apple says that what is needed are systems and methods of allowing multiple devices, such as cellular and network devices, that are located within a femtocell area to communicate with each other while the user equipment is located within the femtocell or while the user equipment is located outside the femto cell. Apple adds that, additionally, what is desired are systems and methods of allowing the user equipment to communicate with home-based devices, such as data storage devices, printing devices or other devices.