Can you hear me now? Sprint quietly offered free Evolution Data Optimized femtocells for customers lacking adequate wireless signals on their mobile phones.
Mobile carrier Sprint Nextell is reaching out with free femtocells to
customers who have trouble getting good reception, a spokesman from the company
confirmed to the wireless industry
publication FierceWireless. A
femtocell acts as a small cellular base station, typically designed for use in
a home or small business. It connects to the service provider's network via
broadband (such as DSL or cable), and current
designs typically support two to four active mobile phones in a residential
setting; up to 16 active mobile phones can be supported in enterprise settings.
"Sprint is offering the Airave Access Point for customers who have
specific in-building coverage issues," Sprint spokesman Mark Elliott told FierceWireless. "Each customer
situation is reviewed independently to determine whether the customer would
qualify and benefit from Airave use. This is an updated Airave model, and does
support Sprint 3G [Evolution Data Optimized] data speeds."
Sprint introduced femtocells in the third quarter of 2007 as a limited
rollout in Denver and Indianapolis
of a home-based femtocell built by Samsung called the Airave, which works with
any Sprint handset. In August 2008, the Airave was rolled out nationwide. Other
operators in the United States
have followed suit, including Verizon's Wireless Network Extender in 2009,
which is based on the same design as the Sprint and Samsung system.
Research firm Berg Insight recently forecast femtocell shipments to reach 12
million units worldwide in 2014, up from 0.2 million in 2009. By 2014, there
will be almost six femtocells per macro base station, and the number of
femtocell users is estimated to surpass 70 million. "The European, North
American and advanced markets in Asia Pacific will account for the vast
majority of femtocell shipments in the foreseeable future," predicted report
authors André Malm and Marcus Perrson. "In many other countries worldwide, the
penetration of fixed broadband connections is much lower and 3G services less
Security issues remain, however. In February, two Trustwave security
consultants reported they had
uncovered hardware and software vulnerabilities in femtocell devices that can
be used to take them over. A cell phone does not have business logic to prevent
it from connecting to a wireless device acting as a tower that has been
tampered with, so it is possible for malicious users to abuse that trust and
sniff traffic as it traverses the network, Trustwave consultants Zack Fasel and
Matthew Jakubowski warned.
As the Berg Insight study suggests, security concerns at the enterprise
level have so far not blunted industry interest in the technology. According to research from
Informa Telecoms & Media, as of Febrary 2010, there were 12 service
commitments from operators, including nine commercial launches and several
ongoing trials, while completed trials were progressing into deployment plans.
This contrasts with eight femtocell service commitments and six commercial
launches in November 2009.
Nathan Eddy is Associate Editor, Midmarket, at eWEEK.com. Before joining eWEEK.com, Nate was a writer with ChannelWeb and he served as an editor at FierceMarkets. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.