Verizon Intros Femtocell
Verizon Wireless today launches its first femtocell -- a $250 box that will improve voice and data connections for users living in difficult coverage areas, but won't support 3G EV-DO networks for faster downloads in the home.
The Verizon Wireless Network Extender, which the company is calling a "mini-cell site", is made by Samsung Corp. for the operator. The CDMA radio boasts a coverage range of 5,000 feet and allows voice and data calls to be routed back through the user's wired home network.
The largest CDMA operator in the U.S. is charging $249.99 plus tax for the box but won't be tapping users for a service fee after the initial purchase.
Verizon describes the Network Extender as "ideal for customers who want to boost their wireless signal when making voice calls, sending text/picture/video messages, accessing Mobile Web or accessing Smartphone/BlackBerry data in situations that could include houses with structural barriers, in basement rooms, or in some remote, mountainous or hilly areas." The femto will also boost coverage for those living on the edge of Verizon's network deploymemts.
The initial user questions around the mini base station are likely to center around the cost of the box and the lack of 3G support. The only current rival on the U.S. market, the Airave -- also made by Samsung -- doesn't offer 3G support either, but only costs $99. Sprint, however, does charge a monthly fee for the femto subscription.
The lack of EV-DO 3G support will likely raise some eyebrows, given the initial cost of the unit. A Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) veep, talking to Unstrung at the CES show recently, suggested that the main reason carriers wanted femtocells in the U.S. was to relieve some download pressure brought on by the latest wave of 3G smartphones. Cisco is reportedly working with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) on its femtocell deployment project. (See AT&T Targets Q2 Femto Launch and CES: AT&T's Femtos in the Fall?)
The extender concept, however, is actually right in line with what Verizon Wireless's CTO, Tony Melone, told us he wanted out of femtocells last year: better indoor penetration for voice. (See the video below.)
Verizon has been vocal about its interest in femtocells for months now. (See Verizon Eyes Femtos and Verizon Eyes Femtos for 2009.) In fact, the Network Extender follows hard on the footsteps of the box that many expected to be the big V's first femto but which turned out to be a fancy home hub. (See Verizon's Home Hub-Bub (But No Femto).)
Verizon Wireless’s Network Extender is available online and at "select Verizon Wireless Communications Stores."
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung