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Cisco Femto Spotted at AT&T

More evidence of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s fondness for femtocells has been uncovered: A new page on the operator's Website reveals a Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)-branded home base station, called the 3G MicroCell.

The development emerged on the same day that Verizon Wireless introduced a CDMA femtocell called the Network Extender, manufactured by Samsung Corp. , that will retail for $249.99 with no monthly service fee. (See Verizon Intros Femtocell.)

AT&T will follow down the femto path behind Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon, which now both have launched commercial 2G CDMA femtocell services. The difference is that AT&T's femtocell is reportedly a 3G femto, which will handle higher data rates than the Samsung femtocell used by Sprint and Verizon.

AT&T is testing femtocells in employees' homes and plans to launch a larger trial in three U.S. cities in the first quarter this year, according to an AT&T spokeswoman. Unstrung reports that the operator plans a commercial launch in the U.S. in the fall. (See AT&T Talks of Q2 Femto Test, AT&T Targets Q2 Femto Launch, and CES: AT&T's Femtos in the Fall?.)

In response to our questions about the 3G MicroCell Web page, an AT&T spokeswoman sent the following emailed statement: "AT&T plans to use femtocell technology to deliver a 3G solution that will expand in-home wireless voice and data coverage, while offering a terrific value to consumers who bundle AT&T services. An employee trial is underway and we plan to launch customer trials in three cities during Q1. We look forward to sharing more details about our plans as we get closer to launch."

The revelation about AT&T's femto from Cisco adds weight to Unstrung's report that Cisco has been working with U.K. femto firm ip.access Ltd. to develop a home base station product for AT&T. Cisco is also a strategic investor in ip.access. (See Cisco, ip.access Prep Femto Combo and Cisco Invests in ip.access.)

Nice box, but what is it?
The Cisco-branded 3G MicroCell is pictured on the AT&T Web page, but it is impossible to tell whether the device is a stand-alone femto or a home gateway with an integrated femto.

The product price and service plan details are not revealed on the AT&T Web page. One of the advertised benefits is "unlimited nationwide calling" in the home or on any 3G MicroCell with certain monthly plans.

According to the product description, the device supports voice and data over an area of 5,000 square feet and supports up to four simultaneous users.

AT&T uses the following description to explain what the product does: "The 3G MicroCell acts like a personal mini cellular tower in your home or small business." That's certainly what it does. But using language like cellular tower in your home may not be the best way to avoid inciting public health fears about radiation exposure.

The operator appears confident in having cracked the automatic service provisioning issue as well. The Web page boasts, "Set up and manage your AT&T 3G MicroCell settings online, it's easy!"

Other tips on the site include the recommendation that users install their device near a window. This is to ensure good access to the Global Positioning System (GPS) link, which his needed to verify the device location for the initial setup.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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