Abstract—Femtocells, despite their name, pose a potentially large disruption to the carefully planned cellular networks that now connect a majority of the planet’s citizens to the Internet and with each other. Femtocells – which by the end of 2010 already outnumbered traditional base stations and at the time of publication are being deployed at a rate of about five million a year – both enhance and interfere with this network in ways that are not yet well understood. Will femtocells be crucial for offloading data and video from the creaking traditional network? Or will femtocells prove more trouble than they are worth, undermining decades of careful base station deployment with unpredictable interference while delivering only limited gains? Or possibly neither: are femtocells just a “flash in the pan”; an exciting but short-lived stage of network evolution that will be rendered obsolete by improved WiFi offloading, new backhaul regulations and/or pricing, or other unforeseen technological developments? This tutorial article overviews the history of femtocells, demystifies their key aspects, and provides a preview of the next few years, which the authors believe will see a rapid acceleration towards small cell technology. In the course of the article, we also position and introduce the articles that headline this special issue
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