Verizon femtocell GPS question


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Original poster
Pub Member / Supporter
Nov 30, 2011
Kansas City / Las Vegas
My brother was given a Verizon femtocell to use at his house in Ohio. It appears to have a GPS built in and requires GPS satellite reception. What purpose does this serve? I've had femtocells when I had T-Mobile and I don't believe they had a GPS.

It appears there isn't an option to whitelist celluar clients on that device. That's a major privacy issue. Ongoing thread on the Verizon forums about this:

Yep, it’s for 911. My ATT microcells had it too. The GPS location had to match what I entered as the location in account for the 2 microcells I had.

I recycled them last year as ATT was shutting them down as they ended 3G support. I switched my mom to an iPhone with WiFi calling, as there is no signal at the lake where the house is.

I had turned my microcell off a year or so earlier when I moved back to iPhone as my Samsung Notes would t play nice with the microcell and att didn’t support wifi calling on them at the time.
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This unit has a 7,500 sq ft range.

So if the next door neighbor is connected to my brother's femtocell and they call 911, first responders will show up at my brother's house and not that of the caller?

Good job, Verizon!

View attachment 146370
It has a 50 foot signal radius. Assuming the neighbor happens to have a Verizon 4G LTE phone with Advanced Calling enabled, yes he could be using your brother's fem2cell and emergency responders would have an incorrect location. As already said, WiFi calling would be a better choice...
If you had a Managed Switch that the femtocell is plugged in to, you could do what we do at work, throttle the Ethernet connection to under a megabit per second. It doesn't effect the ability to make LTE phone calls, but it discourages video downloads and/or excessive data use.

As others have said, the GPS is for 911 services. The T-mobile units we have at work have a GPS antenna with a double-stick tape to adhere to a window. Since we have a Business Account, it's optional. T-Mobile has all of our femtocells set up for our Business Address. Where we've deployed these units there is no clear view of the sky.
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These don't have a Password on them when you set them up ?

I use to have a Sprint version awhile back, but don't remember ..,. it did have a GPS cable with it as well that I set up in the window.
We use them mostly in basement offices, places that usually don't have windows.
The new 4G units are great but the GPS requirement sucks. We have business phones that can call 911. I wish GPS would be optional, silly govt regs again.
It's been a while since I dealt with these. Consumer femtocells are nice for MVNO users who often don't get Wi-Fi calling on non-flagship Android phones. The problem being someone must have a post-paid account on the primary network operator (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile) to get the femtocell registered. They tend to have pretty crappy data throughput compared to an actual cell tower, so not sure it is worth trying to throttle most of them. Where my parents live in NY, the Verizon ones were more popular because it allowed anyone on, so if you needed to make a call while out of the house, people knew to just go stand in front of certain houses or businesses to get signal.

My parents still have their AT&T Microcell. Both it and wi-fi calling is pretty unreliable, so I mostly call them using Facetime Audio, which seems more reliable. Obviously this only works for Apple users.

The GPS requirement can be annoying to be sure, but I think the emergency responders lobbied the FCC hard for that to be included. It at least would get them pretty close to any emergency. With wi-fi calling, it is going to potentially look like you are calling from your own address even if you are at work on company wi-fi.
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One of the gotchas of these cell service extenders is that they typically can't pick up a tower call when you go indoors. Cell towers will pick you up when you're outbound but they can't hand off to these devices. GPS may ultimately make this possible so that the provider can know that you're within range of the extender.
The GPS actually serves a few different purposes...

As a lot of folks here have mentioned, it helps with E911 (through A-GPS particularly if your device doesn't have adequate or any GPS signal of its own).

It's also used by the network-side femtocell provisioning software to be certain you're in an area where your carrier has spectrum — and back to E911, PSAP interconnectivity to be able to route your call to the closest 911 operator. (A carrier might have spectrum rights in an area that it doesn't use, and thus might have no towers in an entire county. Counties are usually the level of government that operates a 911 call center. Whenever a carrier puts in towers in a county for the first time, they'd need to work to make sure they can route calls and information to the nearest 911 center. If they haven't, and someone powers up a femtocell there, that could be an issue. This is already the case with Wi-Fi Calling, but carriers work around it by using West, Bandwidth, etc. which have operators that take any "unknown" 911 call and manually route it to the nearest 911 operator.)

Synchronizing a femtocell with the network also requires your femtocell to have really accurate time — it can't be flashing twelve o'clock like your VCR. :p GPS satellites have atomic clocks onboard, and provide precise time to GPS receivers — like your brother's new femtocell.

As an aside to the spectrum piece — AT&T has spectrum to operate in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. But because part of the county is within the National Radio Quiet Zone, and particularly the much tighter restrictions imposed by the West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zoning Act, they have a block in place to prevent a MicroCell from activating there. Funny enough, Verizon does not (at least the last time I checked).
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Getting time of day information from the Internet is much less fuss than using GPS.

justen: what part of your GPS utility argument isn't uniquely related to E911?

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