AT&T's 3G femtocell service counts against data usage caps

Peter Jarich at Current Analysis revealed in a research piece that AT&T's (NYSE:T) 3G Microcell femtocell service--which involves customers buying the mini base station to improve coverage in the home--don't get unlimited data usage via the femtocell despite the fact that the data traffic is being backhauled over the user's wired broadband connection.

AT&T recently revamped its smartphone data pricing by imposing caps, the highest cap being 2 GB per month. As it turns out, smartphone tethering, which costs an extra $20 per month, falls under the cap as does the use of a femtocell, which also costs $20 for unlimited voice services in the home.

It's clear that AT&T prefers users connect to WiFi as a data offload solution. AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom told that the "3G MicroCell is primarily intended to enhance the voice call quality experience in your home. While it can carry mobile data traffic, that's not the primary solution it provides. WiFi is the optimal solution for home mobile data use. We encourage people to take advantage of Wi-Fi capabilities - that's why all of our smartphones include WiFi radios, and usage on WiFi doesn't count against your mobile data usage bucket."

It may be true that most customers have a WiFi connection in the home, but Jarich points out that AT&T's move does "nothing to drive femtocell usage and runs in the face of the market's vision of femtocell applications as a way to take advantage of femtocell capacity for compelling multimedia applications or macro network offload."

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