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Google puts money into Ubiquisys: The search giant was part of a $25m round of financing. Femtocells use licensed frequencies to act as tiny cell base stations in homes and offices, with voice and data backhauled over a customer’s own broadband connection. The investment is interesting in light of Google’s intent to bid in the 700 MHz advanced wireless auction in the U.S., for which rules are still be nailed down.
The Economist offers this account of trying to find a smart phone, purchased in the U.S., that could work worldwide without mortgaging the farm: The correspondent, in the end, says that an Linux-based OpenMoko-standard phone due out in October called Neo 1973 ($450 with advanced features) is the closest to meeting the bill. It’s quad-band GSM, unlocked, with Wi-Fi and GPRS, GPS, and a Smart Digital slot; 3G comes next year. There’s no lock on what applications the phone can run. All other phones either have too many limits (such as EVDO 3G that won’t work worldwide) or charge insane roaming fees and data fees with no option to drop in a locally rented SIM card.
Skype software for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled tablet is out: The $400 N800 lacks any cellular connection. Unlike the iPhone, it can run the just-released Skype software for it, and play Adobe Flash content, such as YouTube and other streaming services that rely on a Flash movie playback subsystem. Skype also works on Windows Mobile.
Peter Judge reports at Techworld that femtocells, cell base stations for the home, are still far from deployment, but moving along: Femtocells have been two-years-away technology for some time. Rather, the technology is well understood: a cellular carrier can give its customers broadband-backhauled base stations that use licensed frequencies the carrier controls. The broadband may be unpredictable—just like with VoIP—but there’s no issue with interference as there is with UMA (unlicensed mobile access) when Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other devices are contending for spectrum.
But Judge notes that while vendors have femtocells on offer, carriers don’t have them in live trials yet. At a femtocell conference, he reports on a lot of talk about standards and operator-oriented control tools. There are a lot of issues to be settled, such as will a femtocell allow any user nearby or just the one paying for the broadband? Does their use break ISP agreements on services carried, part of the net neutrality debate?
ABI Research predicted 35m femtocells in use by 2011, but others are dubious, including myself. UMA is a “best-availbility” technology that might wind up being good enough—and which could cost carriers a lot less to rll out to users. Femtocells costs are still quite high compared to comparable Wi-Fi networking equipment, even though femtocells will have lots of advantages for voice users.
David Pogue is unabashedly positive about the converged calling plan offered by T-Mobile: The service was announced a week ago, and an all-iPhone, all-the-time period, it was hard for them to get coverage. That might have been intentional. They didn’t steal any of AT&T’s thunder, but their offering has quietly gotten a lot of positive reviews. Where AT&T’s iPhone plan is incrementally more expensive through the data service on top of voice, T-Mobile service will likely reduce people’s phone bills by allowing them to drop their minutes’ plan and drop a homeline. This saves T-Mobile money, too, by routing more calls over a cheaper transport, gaining more customers, and reducing churn. Cell carriers spent hundreds of dollars per customer to acquire them or to keep them.
Pogue finds the whole package terrific. He’s not a big fan of the initial phones or their battery life, but he knows that there will be better phones in the future. He’s enthusiastic about the non-zero-sum-game aspect, however, in which both customers and the carrier reduce expenses.