12:49 PM

AT&T's MicroCell Boosts Cell, 3G Signals

The wireless carrier's femtocell device is basically a miniature cell phone tower for the home.

AT&T began selling the MicroCell Monday, a femtocell device aimed at boosting voice and 3G data signals indoors.

The MicroCell is essentially a miniature cell phone tower that uses the customer's home Internet connection to connect to AT&T's network. The device can support up to four voice or data users at once, and subscribers can switch between the MicroCell and AT&T's regular network without interrupting the call.

The MicroCell contains a GPS chip that can be used to verify its location during setup. Security features prevent the device from being accessed by unauthorized devices. AT&T also has created an online portal for MicroCell customers to set up, activate, and monitor their device.

AT&T is currently selling the device only in the Charlotte, North Carolina market; the price is $150. Users can get a $100 rebate if they sign up for a $20 monthly plan that provides unlimited calling for subscribers within the femtocell's range, the carrier said. AT&T stressed that the company is taking a hard look at the pricing structure during the trial period, and pricing may change if the MicroCell is sold nationwide.

AT&T is not the only carrier looking at femtocells as a way to increase subscribers' coverage area. Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless have also released hardware that uses the subscriber's home Internet connection to boost cell phone signals. AT&T's hardware is unique because it is the only device that supports 3G data boosting.

It is unclear how strong the market is for femtocells, but a report from ABI Research indicates the space won't really get going until 2010. Subscribers trying to get home coverage will likely account for a sizable portion of the market, but multiple companies are also eyeing femtocells as a way to provide fixed-mobile convergence.

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