Two operators presented on how they had used femtocells in an unusual way at last week's Femtocell Asia conference. In both cases, there had been natural disasters which destroyed existing cellsites – restoring service for both emergency and general users was a priority. Femtocells were able to be deployed quickly to achieve this goal.
An unusual occurrence
Thankfully, natural disasters don't happen that often.
The earthquake that hit New Zealand in February caused immense damage. More than 180 lives were lost and an estimated $12 Billion will be claimed from insurers. The response seems to have been well organized and highly effective. Local businesses and residents pulled together in that time of crisis in a real community effort. Although I couldn't help but chuckle when hearing of the planning consent for a new high voltage power line being granted within 20 minutes - something that might take many months at any other time.
Vodafone New Zealand described how they dealt with the crisis, adapting and improvising as necessary.
The traditional approach takes longer
With cellsites destroyed and out of action, the challenge of restoring service can be difficult. Even where new cellsite equipment is available, it is large and bulky. With mains power services also cut off, the typical power consumption of a standard outdoor site would require onsite diesel generators.
Lightweight and portable enables rapid installation
The small and lightweight form factor of today's femtocells means they can be easily and quickly deployed. A simple pole with antenna can be erected to increase range. Power can be supplied through solar panels, with a battery charging through the day and maintaining service overnight.
In some cases, Vodafone had to adapt femtocells in stock that were intended for business use for outdoor sites. This was possible because the internal femtocell hardware is much the same. Alternatively, the growing range of femtocells designed specifically for use outdoors, either in rural or metro-femto applications would be ideal for this purpose.
Factors that allowed rapid response
Existing femtocell network operators have the advantage that they already have in place the core components of a femtocell system – the femtocell gateway and central management system are both live on their network. Processes for provisioning and enabling new femtocells are already in place. No new core network equipment or processes are required to enable service – femtocells can simply be turned on.
Since the same femtocell gateway can be used to support all types and sizes of femtocells, whether residential, enterprise or outdoor, no significant changes or new equipment needs to be installed.
Additional femtocell units could be connected through any available internet connection and self-configured.
I expect some further manual configuration or optimization might have been done, for example to improve handover between cells. But just providing basic telecommunications service again would be a major bonus for all involved.
Are femtocells a part of your disaster recovery plan?
Most large businesses have put in place detailed disaster recovery plans, catering for a variety of worst case scenarios. Communication providers are no different, and would have considered major outages of central switching centres or long distance transmission links.
Femtocells may be another option to consider adding to the arsenal of rapid response solutions. Low power requirements, self-configuration, self-optimising and rapid provisioning features all match the needs of a crisis response team.
Perhaps this forms another justification to adopt them for in other networks?