Behold, the not-necessarily-mobile phone


Behold, the not-necessarily-mobile phone

Last year the wireless industry added a new set of words to its lexicon: Femtocell, picocell, ubicell and so on and just this week U.S. mobile users began purchasing these "in-home cell towers." Sprint announced on Monday that its subscribers in Indianapolis, Denver and Nashville (soon) can now purchase a femtocell--which the carrier calls an Airave--and a corresponding service plan. The Airave (photo) is a rebranded version of Samsung's Ubicell, and aims to boost cellular coverage for Sprint subscribers while they are at home.

Sprint's latest offering drew comparisons to T-Mobile's recently launched FMC service, and for good reason: [email protected] makes use of UMA technology to port a user's cellular calls over WiFi while at home. Femtocells and UMA are competing as well as complementary ways to achieve FMC and boost cellular signals. The key difference is that femtocells make use of standard cellular signals, while UMA uses cellular-to-WiFi hand-off. Sprint has clearly decided on the femtocell route, while T-Mobile USA is putting its weight behind UMA. 

That's not to say that UMA and femtocells are mutually exclusive, however. Kineto Wireless, the original developer of the UMA standard, has been working with Ubiquisys and Netgear on femtocells that make use of UMA as a backhaul solution. So it seems that at least for now, there's plenty of room for both technologies in the FMC space.

Offering a solution that makes it easier to use one's mobile phone in the home makes sense for T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel, since neither depends on landline voice service revenues like rivals AT&T and Verizon. One has to wonder though what comes next for these carriers, if they succeed in gaining traction in the home through a femtocell or UMA-enabled router. Will last year's predictions of IPTV-slinging femtocells prove prescient? Or are femtocells and UMA merely blips on the long road to fixed-mobile convergence?

Let me know if you think these recent FMC offerings are game-changers, now that the mobile phone is no longer just for the road. It works (much more consistently) right from your living room couch. -Brian