Virgin Media looks to femtocells to boost WiFi

The UK’s second biggest pay-TV operator Virgin Media plans to bid for spectrum for use by in-home femtocells to carry voice, data and video traffic. As the UK’s dominant cable TV operator with 4.2 million subscribers, Virgin Media has built a large-core fiber backbone network that now has spare capacity to backhaul mobile traffic away from congested cellular cells. By setting up a femtocell, which is a private cell for the subscriber served by a small base station within the home but connected to the public cellular network, around 50 percent of mobile traffic can be taken over the infrastructure into the core fiber network. This also boosts home coverage for data services, as the femtocell can act as a backup for existing WiFi networks, whose coverage can be intermittent in some homes. Virgin Media sees the femtocell/WiFi combination as a possible wireless solution for in-home distribution of TV as well as Internet service, although that has yet to be established.

Meanwhile the operator is lobbying the regulator to set aside part of the 2.6GHz spectrum for use by femtocells that could be harnessed by the cable network within the home.

In the UK, Vodafone has pioneered use of femtocells to improve in home mobile reception, but mostly for dialup voice. More recently, though, Vodafone has been engaged in trials using femtocells to boost mobile broadband coverage as well.