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Sprint begins nationwide femtocell rollout

Samsung femtos go on sale at Sprint stores Aug 17; rollout focuses on coverage first, cheap minutes second

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Sprint is taking its Airave femtocell pilot commercial, announcing today it will begin selling the home base station technology on Aug. 17 to its customers across the country. Sprint, however, seems to be defying industry expectations for the service, charging customers both for the femtocell and the service, effectively asking subscribers to subsidize the cost of expanding network coverage.

Sprint first launched the pilot program last September in Kansas City and Denver, selling a Samsung-designed femtocell, which routes CDMA calls over a home broadband connection to the Sprint network, effectively giving individual customers private base stations at their homes or offices. While femtos have become a hot topic worldwide, they have so far only been used in trials as operators await the global standards bodies to set technology and protocol specifications that would ensure interoperability between networks and drive down production costs. Sprint--as it is often inclined to do to gain first-mover advantage—bucked that trend today, announcing a full nationwide rollout and becoming the first operator to offer the technology commercially.

Sprint is also questioning other preconceived notions about femtocells. Industry experts from the Femto Forum to analysts have projected femtocells would be deployed in two possible scenarios: as a means to expand coverage or as a means to offer discounted voice plans. In the first scenario the carrier has the most gain, allowing it to expand network coverage and capacity without investing in expensive macro-cells. The second scenario implies the customer stands to gain the most, allowing it to gain discounted or unlimited calling plans by supplying the infrastructure and back-end connection to the network. The first case implies the carrier subsidize the cost of the femtocell and service, while the second implies the customer pays.

Sprint, however, is charging for the femtocell ($100) and the basic femto connectivity itself ($5 a month), and then layering calling plans on top ($10 or $20 a month for unlimited individual or family voice calling plans). Sprint is essentially asking customers to subsidize the cost of its own network expansion, said Peter Jarich, wireless infrastructure analyst for Current Analysis. “It’s $5 a month just to have it in my home,” Jarich said. “It’s a hybrid of two models.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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