AT&T Will Go National With Its Femtocell

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As expected, AT&T announced on Wednesday that it will offer its femtocell product, called MicroCell, across the continental U.S. beginning in mid-April.

The MicroCell, a tiny cellular base station, is designed to boost coverage in subscribers' homes. AT&T claims it is the only femtocell that can support both voice and 3G data traffic. The carrier has been selling MicroCells in trials in several states, beginning last September in North Carolina.

Femtocells can improve a consumer's cell coverage at home, but they may benefit service providers even more by reducing how much they have to invest in conventional cell towers. The devices use the consumer's own wired broadband, such as DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem, to connect to the Internet. Research released this week by the Femto Forum industry group said 60 percent of the economic value of a typical femtocell deployment lies in that investment break.

The traditional business model represented by femtocells such as AT&T's MicroCell is now only one of many potential uses of the devices, including use in medium-sized enterprises and in public areas. Femtocells are also expected to play a key role in the deployment of coming LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks.

After AT&T's national deployment begins next month, the carrier will activate the offering in cities across the continental U.S. over the next several months, according to a press release. The MicroCell, developed with Cisco Systems and IP.access, can be installed by the subscriber and managed via a personalized Web portal.

The product costs US$149.99. With it, individual or family-plan subscribers can opt for a special rate plan that lets users make unlimited calls over the MicroCell without consuming minutes. Subscribers who sign up for that plan will get a $100 mail-in rebate on the device. There is also a $50 mail-in rebate for signing up for a new AT&T DSL plan with at least 1.5M bits per second, and eligible subscribers could combine the offers to effectively get a free MicroCell.

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