Small cells

MWC 2010: AT&T Mum on Femto Launch Date

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is not yet ready to launch a commercial Femtocell service in the U.S. because the carrier is still "tweaking" the service provisioning system.

It will be a matter of weeks, not months, before AT&T knows whether the changes to the provisioning system are ready, according to Gordon Mansfield, AT&T's executive director for radio access network delivery. At that point, AT&T will be able to determine when to go for a full commercial service for the 3G Microcell. (See AT&T on Track for Femto Launch, Meet the AT&T MicroCell, and Look for AT&T's Femto 'Soft Launch' Soon.)

"We're close," said Mansfield.

The software "tweaks" Mansfield referred to are being tested in AT&T's lab now. The carrier wants the femto access points to be "zero touch" -- meaning a customer merely plugs it in and it works.

"It's all about ensuring that it's simple for the end user," said Mansfield. "We need to make this as easy as we possibly can for customers to take this home and use it. Then, we'll go to the next step."

Products for the current pilots are being supplied by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which uses femto technology from ip.access Ltd. that's powered by Picochip silicon. "Every Microcell on AT&T works," Mansfield insists.

While AT&T modifies the provisioning system, the carrier is also working on how to price the service. Each of the carrier's pilot markets has a different pricing structure. The prices are not yet decided, but AT&T knows now that it will not charge users a recurring monthly fee just for indoor coverage. So, in that scenario, users would pay for the femto access point (perhaps getting some kind of rebate), and simply use their existing plan's minutes for calls made on the femtocell at home.

Another possibility is that AT&T could charge a monthly fee for unlimited calls made on the femtocell, which wouldn't eat into customers' minutes in their service plans.

Even before the Microcell pilots go to commercial launch, AT&T is starting to think about how else it can use the small base stations. The carrier is considering options for offering an Enterprise Femtocell, as well as femtocells in public areas.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

venturecapital 12/5/2012 | 4:42:29 PM
re: MWC 2010: AT&T Mum on Femto Launch Date

Having bought two of their boxes, I can say that their provisioning is improving. The first one wouldn't come up on its own and required an AT&T technician an hour with their back-end systems to get the service working. The second one bought a month later came up automatically without a snag. By the way, I got the second one to cover the upper floor of the house as the first one scarcely covers one floor. AT&T claims you can install multiple units, though no one there seemed to know if handoff between them is supported. Turns out that it isn't.

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