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Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers?

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is the latest major operator to start examining the prospect of using so-called femtocells to bolster cellular coverage and capacity in subscribers' homes, industry sources tell Unstrung.

The largest cellular operator in the U.S. -- formerly known as Cingular -- is said to have to a request for proposal (RFP) regarding this new technology currently doing the rounds, industry sources say.

"There is an RFP out," one industry source notes. "Our partners have got it."

A home base station -- or femtocell -- is a low-cost, low-power radio system that can be used to boost bandwidth and coverage and enable new applications such as fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) in a subscriber's dwelling. Vendors have been pushing the idea for a while, but it appears that mobile operators are now starting to take them seriously.

A spokesman for AT&T refused to talk about the rumors when reached by Unstrung on Monday afternoon. "We're not going to comment on that, sorry," he said.

An AT&T RFP could be further validation for this emerging technology -- especially following recent news about Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) checking out the prospects for femtocell technology over the last several months. (See Vodafone RFP Fuels Femtocells.)

AT&T already works with 2Wire Inc. , a home gateway vendor that announced late March that it will introduce initial femtocell products early in 2008. The company wouldn't say whether it had seen an AT&T RFP.

"We don't comment on any of our contracts," says a 2Wire spokeswoman. (See Femto Players Gun for Gateways.) There are plenty of other telco equipment players, large and small, that would be interested in a potentially large contract from AT&T. Vendors in this space include: (See NEC, Ubiquisys Team, NEC Teams With Tatara, Ericsson Unveils Femtocell, ZTE, Samsung Build Femtocell, ABI Rates UbiquiSys, and Sonus Targets Femtocells.)

Other major operators said to be looking at the home broadband technology include Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), French mobile operator SFR , and SoftBank Mobile Corp.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile US Inc. -- AT&T's smaller GSM rival -- recently launched its own WiFi-based fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) service nationwide. [email protected] uses WiFi to achieve some of the same aims of the femtocell crowd, such as easier wireless connections in the home. The difference is that T-Mobile's offering requires a dualmode handset, while femto-based systems do not. (See T-Mobile Launches UMA in USA.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, and Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

lrmobile_rusty 12/5/2012 | 3:05:19 PM
re: Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers? If I can get FMC via UMA, then why go for Femtocells? It seems to me that even if you give your home or office better cell coverage, you're still SOL if you bring your phone to another office that does not have a Femtocell from your carrier. With UMA then all you need is Wi-Fi. Any Wi-Fi connection to the Internet gives you coverage where you need it. That's not even touching on the potential price difference with Wi-Fi.
joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:05:18 PM
re: Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers? I imagine we'll see WiFi in femtocells pretty soon anyway, cheap enough for sure.
farpoint 12/5/2012 | 3:05:15 PM
re: Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers? We already do - they're called access points!

Thx. Craig.
farpoint 12/5/2012 | 3:05:15 PM
re: Is AT&T Putting Out Femto Feelers? We already do - they're called access points!

Thx. Craig.
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