UPDATED: Sprint: We've got 250,000 femtocells on our network

ORLANDO, Fla.--Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) currently counts around 250,000 femtocells on its network and expects that number to increase to around 1 million during the course of the next few years.

sprint airave samsung femtocellIyad Tarazi, Sprint's vice president of network development and engineering, disclosed the figure during an appearance yesterday at FierceWireless' Path to 4G conference, co-located at the CTIA Wireless 2010 trade show.

The figure indicates Sprint accounts for a good portion of the femtocells in the United States. According to the Femto Forum, there were 350,000 femtocells nationwide at the end of 2010. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) also sell femtocells.

Interestingly, Simon Saunders, chairman of the Femto Forum, said the number of femtocells in the United States is now greater than the number of cell towers. He said there were around 256,000 cell towers in the United States at the end of last year. Globally, he said there were 1.7 million femtocells deployed at the end of 2010.

AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA likely would extend the use of femtocells to the market's last holdout. T-Mobile has to date forgone femtocells in favor of Wi-Fi calling powered by Kineto Wireless.

Femtocells are essentially mini cellular base stations that users can install in their house or workplace for voice and data coverage, and can route the resulting cellular traffic through a standard wireline Internet connection. The gadgets are sometimes given away for free by wireless carriers seeking to placate subscribers upset over coverage holes.

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AT&T unveils nationwide femtocell offering
Verizon femtocell to go on sale Jan. 25

Article updated March 24 due to updated information provided by Sprint. Sprint's Tarazi initially said the carrier counted 100,000 femtocells, but a Sprint public relations representative said later that the correct number is 250,000.