NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T wireless subscribers who have poor reception at home will soon be able fix that, for $150.
The carrier said Wednesday that it is rolling out "femtocells," little boxes that work much like Wi-Fi routers, except that they relay cellular signals. When connected to the home's broadband modem, they pick up signals from the cell phones in the home and send them through the Internet connection. In essence, they're small cell towers for the home.
Dallas-based AT&T is introducing the 3G MicroCell in mid-April in some markets, as yet unnamed. The rest of the country will follow over the next several months.
Sprint Nextel started selling femtocells for calls in 2008, and Verizon Wireless followed in early 2009. AT&T's femtocell, developed with Cisco Systems, is more advanced than those, because it relays both calls and broadband data.
However, many of AT&T's most popular phones, such as the iPhone, don't need a femtocell for data access in the home, because they can use Wi-Fi.
While femtocells can help consumers, they also benefit carriers by offloading traffic from local cell towers. AT&T is adding $2 billion to its capital budget this year to address problems with congestion on its network, apparently caused by heavy iPhone use.
AT&T is offering two ways of reducing the price of the 3G MicroCell. New subscribers to AT&T's home broadband service get a $50 mail-in rebate. Wireless subscribers who add a $20-per-month option to their calling plan that gives unlimited calls through a femtocell get a $100 rebate.