Thoughts on AT&T Femtocell 
I think the AT&T Femtocell is incredibly misguided technology (at least for smart phone owners). On the surface, it looks kind of cool. Essentially, it is like a tiny cell tower that you can connect to your existing internet connection. Voice calls and data are routed via a 3G connection to the Femtocell and then converted to internet protocols and sent to AT&T servers. The advantage of the Femtocell is that you can get cell coverage where you might otherwise not get it such as in a deadzone, like a building with thick walls. There are also advantages in that a private Femtocell connection will be available when all the regular cell bandwidth is used up by other users (e.g. cities like New York).

So why is it misguided? On the one hand I think customers will be upset that they need to pay $150 to fix a problem that AT&T should probably be fixing for free. However, that's not the problem that I have with the Femtocell. The issue that bugs me is why use the Femtocell at all when everyone already owns WiFi access points?

For instance, iPhones can already communicate with WiFi for internet data connections. The iPhone will seamlessly switch from 3G to using a trusted WiFi AP with no impact on the user. Also, we already know that iPhone apps can use the headset speaker and microphone and they can be used effectively with VOIP applications (e.g. Skype). So instead of a $150 Femtocell box, AT&T should be working with Apple (and other cell phone manufacturers) to create software that will automatically switch from cellular to encrypted VOIP for voice calls. As mentioned before, they've already got the internet data switching working. And the iPhone is more than powerful enough to process VOIP data.

The only negative I can think of is that maintaining an open WiFi connection is probably a big drain on a cell phone's battery. For instance, I believe the iPhone closes the WiFi connection whenever it can (especially when the screen is turned off). If cellular service is not available and the phone is sleeping, then no incoming calls will be able to be received. Also, some WiFi APs might not have bandwidth of a quality good enough for VOIP. This might necessitate a feature where the user can select which WiFI APs are trusted for voice to VOIP re-routing. (Perhaps too confusing for the average user.)

However, I think a lot of folks are in a situation where they receive 1 or 2 bars at home, just good enough to receive a call. However, if you don't stand in the "magic spot" the call gets dropped. I think people in this scenario could benefit a lot from a WiFi-only solution rather than the Femtocell. Finally, WiFi VOIP would have an immediate effect on reducing AT&T's cell bandwidth whereas the Femtocell will only have an effect as quickly as they are sold.


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