While Europe is the center of all the femtocell mania, operators in the good old US of A are either quietly rolling out or planning actual deployments. As expected, most of these deployments are mainly to address the voice coverage problem like Sprint’s Airave product. According to an FCC filing, Verizon Wireless is all set to introduce the Samsung Ubicell (albeit in a new dark suit).
OK. How is the Airave product and service doing? It certainly looks like the product achieves its goal of improved voice coverage – its raison d’être! However, there are several complaints about the service, some of them appear pretty serious:
- GPS locking. The Airave uses a GPS radio and requires a GPS lock before it can be used. Presumably, this is to prevent folks from carrying their Airave boxes on international trips and making free phone calls from their hotel rooms. Folks have complained that it is sometimes difficult to get a GPS lock. To help with this issue, the Samsung Airave comes with a GPS antenna that needs to be close to a window and comes with about 50 feet or so of cord attached. Hey, isn’t this supposed to wireless and cordless!
- A more serious issue relates to the Airave’s feature of authorizing only certain phones to lock to it. Presumably, the owner of the service would not want his neighboring apartment dwellers to use the service free-of-charge. According to the Sprint Airave manual, unauthorized users within range of the base station are automatically redirected to the nearest cell tower. Makes complete sense! However, there have been several reports that instead, unauthorized callers have been told that they are connected to a Private Sprint Network and to move out of the area! This is a serious problem and Sprint needs to resolve this if they don’t want to be flooded by calls from the field.
- Finally, the pricing on this seems to be a dealbreaker for most subscribers. There is a monthly fee of $4.99 just to use the service indoors, which just doesn’t make sense. Most people are willing to pay upfront for the Airave box and an umlimited calling service (similar to the T-Mobile@Home service), but are quite steamed about coughing up extra just for using up minutes in their service. Sprint should have taken a page from T-Mobile which does not charge anything for using the UMA service. The following comment summarizes the frustration quite well.
Sprint: “Our coverage sucks, so here – buy this to improve your signal and actually make and receive calls. Oh, by the way, you have to pay monthly fees and an upfront one.”
Customer: “Why don’t I just switch to verizon and not buy anything?
Hopefully, Sprint will address these issues pretty soon. Given that Verizon seems to be using the same Samsung box, GPS-locks and all, one way that they could be different is to price it a little more intelligently.