AT&T has confirmed plans to roll out femtocells in 2009 with broad customer testing beginning in the second quarter of next year after the conclusion of small-scale employee testing.
AT&T had signed an agreement with UK small scale cell site solutions developer ip.access worth $500 million over five years in order to deploy femtocell technology earlier this year with the stated goal of distributing femtocells for as little as $100.
According to AT&T Operations Chief John Starkey, AT&T has stated the desire to roll out femtocells with 3G voice and data access in order to gain marketshare in the nascent space, with the chief also inferring during the UBS conference that voice competition is all but negated with the perfect signal found while using a femtocell compared to depending on the availability of a stable signal.
Femtocells are small scale base stations that operate using a high-speed internet connection in order to take available spectrum and broadcast it over a small area, providing coverage in areas with spotty or unreliable service, such as high-rise buildings, areas with thick walls, or private residences. This is in contrast to UMA which requires specialized dual-mode handsets with Wi-Fi radios, and additional costs for service
The advantages of a femtocell do come with downsides such as signal interference with multiple deployed cells, roaming issues, and spectrum allocation across cells, with widespread femtocell deployments also being hampered by the difficulty of getting the cell to work with signals from nearby cellular towers.
Another perceived advantage for carriers is the reduced infrastructure cost by offloading the cost of additional coverage onto the user instead of planning costly buildouts to increase coverage.