Alltel's WiFi deals point to FMC?


Does Alltel's WiFi deal point to FMC plans?

This week Alltel inked a significant deal that will bring WiFi services to its subscribers. The carrier announced a white label deal with Sky Dayton's Boingo Wireless that will give Alltel subscribers access to Boingo's nationwide network of WiFi hotspots. The deal could be indicative of the carrier's future plans for fixed-mobile convergence in the home.

Like T-Mobile USA before it, Alltel's move to offer WiFi services via hotspots could lead to a service like T-Mobile's [email protected] The UMA-based T-Mobile service lets users handoff calls to their home WiFi routers to save their cellular minutes and to improve coverage in the home. Now that Alltel has the Boingo deal in place and plans for an EVDO/WiFi unlimited package, offering UMA phones is probably the next step.

One increasingly popular alternative to the UMA/WiFi fixed-mobile convergence play is a femtocell in the home. These mini-basestations typically plug into a subscriber's home routers and increase the oft weak cellular signal at home. Femtocells seem to be a more attractive option for carriers with stronger 3G network deployments, since future femtocells will be 3G-enabled and encourage mobile content consumption while at home. Carriers with little to no 3G coverage at present seem to be going the route of UMA/WiFi-based solutions instead of the femtocell.

That certainly seems to be the case for T-Mobile USA. So why does Alltel, with its substantial EVDO footprint, need a WiFi deal with Boingo? Is it a stop-gap for the carrier as it builds out its EVDO network?

According to a recent Current Analysis report, the Boingo deal gives Alltel more of a level playing field in comparison to AT&T and Sprint who offer WiFi access, but have not combined it with 2.5G/3G access in a bundle. The research group says that Alltel now compares more favorably against Verizon Wireless, who has not been active in the U.S. WiFi market. Current sees the move as one largely benefiting the "road warrior."

Regardless of its motives, Alltel now has a network of WiFi hotspots at its disposal. So it may want to heed femtocell proponents, who point out that a UMA/WiFi FMC solution requires new handsets. They also claim WiFi drains a device's battery life far quicker than a femtocell's cellular signal will. So femtocell or WiFi? What's it going to be Alltel? -Brian

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