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AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

In the aftermath of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s announcement of new mobile data price plans, the operator reveals that data used on its Microcell femtocell will be included in subscribers' newly capped monthly data allowance. (See AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps, Capping the Data Gusher, 5 Mobile Apps That Bust Data Caps, and BillShrink: AT&T Data Caps Mean Paying Twice.)

First spotted by Current Analysis research director Peter Jarich, the news that 3G data traffic running over the AT&T Microcell will count towards a user's monthly data limits, just as making voice calls over the Microcell counts towards a user's monthly bucket of minutes, was confirmed by an AT&T spokeswoman. (See Femto Watch: Vodafone Means Business in Spain and AT&T's 3G Femtocells Now in More US Cities.)

It is possible to get unlimited calling on the Microcell for $19.99 per month, but this is only for voice calls, not data.

In contrast, WiFi usage does not count towards a subscriber's monthly data limit.

A pricing policy that includes femto usage in the data caps and not WiFi shows AT&T's preference for WiFi access. And in terms of offloading mobile data traffic from its busy 3G network, this policy also shows that AT&T's femtos take a back seat to WiFi. (See Deutsche Telekom Joins Rush to WiFi Offload and MWC Preview: Data Offload to the Rescue.)

Here is AT&T's position on the Microcell:

"The 3G MicroCell complements Wi-Fi by providing enhanced in-home voice coverage and reliable data when Wi-Fi may not be available -- but it is primarily intended for voice calls," said the AT&T spokeswoman in an email to Light Reading Mobile.

For consumers, the femto price model means that they will pay AT&T for the Microcell to get better indoor 3G coverage, pay for the backhaul connection to AT&T's core network, and pay AT&T to use that indoor 3G base station.

AT&T isn't alone here. Vodafone UK also counts voice and data traffic from its Sure Signal femtocell towards a subscribers' monthly voice plan and data limit. (See Vodafone Revs Femto Engine and Brits Get Femtos From July 1 .)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:32:02 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

No one knows how to shoot an opportunity in the foot like AT&T.  I bet this makes all those people at the Femto Forum pretty happy. 


Michelle Donegan
Michelle Donegan,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:32:02 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

AT&T's femto pricing hasn't changed -- usage always came out of subscribers' plans -- and its attraction to WiFi access is clear. 

Dean Bubley at Disruptive Analysis has an interesting take on this and suggests that it looks as though AT&T's tiered price policy is disconnected from its femto project. Check out his blog here: 


Is this actually a billing systems issue? Can AT&T's billing systems distinguish femto traffic from macro traffic so that it can give preferential billing to the femtos if it wanted to?


Michelle Donegan
Michelle Donegan,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:32:02 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

Isn't AT&T missing a trick with their femto pricing -- wouldn't it be beneficial to AT&T to encourage users to use their Microcell at home? 

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:32:00 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos


So if femtos are for voice, why make them 3G (or theoretically 4G)?  Why not make them 2G?


User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:31:59 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

Subsidize their network coverage - and pay a premium for the privilege.  But please use Wi-Fi!   ....and yet here we stay.

Is Steve Jobs a sadist?


User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:31:57 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

It's a lot like back in the day when online banking was just starting off: It actually cost more to pay online than it did to mail a check. Or driving on a tollway: It cost more to own a tolltag than pay in cash.

Until the banks and tollway people figured out that, wait, since we are saving our resources and it costs us less, maybe we should ENCOURAGE our customers to use the new stuff.

AT&T will figure this out too. It is in their interest to move traffic off of their cell towers and on to femtocells. It doesn't make a lick of sense that there is no cost benefit to the customers.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:31:53 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

... and why aren't they sharing ? :)

I am a company forced AT&T wireless service user for the past 2 years and where my residence is (and not so coincidentally where I need my cell phone the most) I am in a total signal black hole as far as AT&T's signal goes. Sometimes, my Blackberry graces me with 1 bar out 6, most of the time I am in SOS mode.

Last month, when my corporation's wireless cell account manager mentioned this microcell to me, I was hoping that, it would be something to put it up in the attic or some place where there still is some signal reception and it will act as a repeater of that signal, just more strongly. After seeing this article, I thought something was off, regarding that idea of mine and I dug into it a little and saw that it is a broadband internet bandwidth stealing snivel, nothing more. Even though it is offloading the wireless traffic from their precious network and hop it onto the VoIP traffic, I am still subjected to limitations imposed by the cell phone signal. Are they crazy or what ? I am going to pay for my broadband thru the nose, and then deliver it to AT&T's disposal to pay them more money. Does not make any sense at all. I think I am jumping ship to Verizon soon. Screw the greedy basturds at AT&T...


User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:31:47 PM
re: AT&T Enforces Data Cap on Femtos

Currently the difference between AT&T and Vodafone plans is that if you have a smart phone on contract you typically only pay an extra £5 (approx $7.50) per month for unlimited data on top of your voice plan (I pay £30 instead of £25), so although there is no special dispensation for the Vodafone Sure Signal femtocell, no one really cares. I agree with the view that in the case of AT&T this is far more likely to be incompetence / being uncoordinated that a deliberate policy, and this may also reflect the fact that AT&T is sending all data from their femtocells back to the core network rather than offloading data traffic at the femtocell.

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