Sprint offering free femtocells

Sprint offering femtocells to customers in poor-coverage areas

While femtocells still haven't caught on like many manufacturers had hoped, Sprint is now seemingly opening the door to far wider adoption by offering users living in areas with poor coverage free femtocells.

It's an age-old truth: If you want people to adopt a new technology, give it to them for free.

While femtocells still haven't caught on like many manufacturers had hoped, Sprint is now seemingly opening the door to far wider adoption by offering users living in areas with poor coverage free femtocells.

According to a report in Fierce Wireless, Sprint will be reviewing coverage quality in customer locations on a case-by-case basis to evaluate whether they will qualify for a free Airvana 3G EV-DO Rev. A femtocell. Users who receive free femtocells from Sprint will have to return them to the company if they cancel their service, Sprint spokesman Mark Elliott told Fierce Wireless.

Femtocells are essentially small cellular access points that route nearby wireless voice and data traffic through preexisting broadband connections. In this way, femtocells can provide VoIP for wireless handsets that can both improve call quality and save money by letting users make calls without using up their cell minutes. Femtocells also have benefits for carriers, as they let wireless companies offload traffic from their own networks and onto wired IP networks.

So far, however, carriers haven't been all that successful in selling femtocells to their customers. A recent report from research firm Infonetics Research found that vendors sold approximately 17,000 femtocells in 2009, well below their expectations. Infonetics analyst Richard Webb said at the time that carriers have tried marketing femtocells to their customers by focusing on their ability to improve call quality within homes. The problem with this, Webb claimed, is that most people have strong call quality in their homes already and don't see the need to spend more than $100 on equipment to improve it.

Woojune Kim, Airvana's vice president of technology, told Network World this past year that he expected it was only a matter of time before carriers figured out the proper pricing models that would lead to widespread adoption. Apparently, the best pricing model for many customers is "free," as femtocells are apparently providing enough of a boost to carriers that it makes sense for them to give them away to customers who need them. Studies from carriers such as Japan's NTT DoCoMo have shown that 70% of mobile traffic comes from users located in buildings, so if carriers can offload the majority of their indoor mobile traffic through femtocells it will leave them considerably more bandwidth to serve customers consuming voice and data services outdoors.

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