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Sprint Boosts 3G Coverage With Airvana Femtocells

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Sprint Nextel is now offering a new femtocell product from mobile broadband provider Airvana that works with all of its phones and supports its 3G/EV-DO for customers who have coverage issues related to where they live, a spokesperson for the carrier said. Some customers may qualify to receive the updated Airave Access Point for free, the spokesperson said.

"Each situation is reviewed independently to determine whether the customer would qualify and benefit from Airave use,'' the spokesperson said in an e-mail. "If the customer qualifies, they may receive the device at no additional charge to those customers." If a customer decides to deactivate the service, they must return Airave Access Point or they will be charged a non-return fee.

The updated Airave Access Point uses a customer's broadband internet connection to route calls back to the Sprint network and is being marketed by Sprint as "your own mini cell tower." It covers up to 5,000 square feet and supports up to six calls simultaneously, the carrier said.

Sprint's initial Airave device was released in 2008 by Samsung and only supported CDMA 1x service to improve indoor coverage. Customers who use the femtocell will not have to pay any additional monthly charge and all their minutes, data, and text messaging on the device will come from their regular rate plan.

Airvana won a contract with Sprint earlier this summer to supply the carrier with 3G femotcells, which are designed to enhance voice coverage in homes. Airvana previously had been working to promote the idea that femotcells give 3G operators the ability to improve their services rather than using them to extend voice coverage in homes.

All phone functions, including voicemail, text messaging, and data services will work with Airave Access Point, Sprint said. The carrier will also continue to offer the 2G data version of Airave for $99.99, plus a required $4.99/month for Airave Enhanced Coverage. The customer would also need to activate one of the Airave monthly $10 single line or $20 multi-line plans at the time of purchase, the carrier said.

Sprint is not the only carrier using femtocells. AT&T Mobility in the spring began offering a femtocell product called the 3G MicroCell in tandem with Cisco. Customers can receive unlimited calling with 3G MicroCell for $150 and a $20 per month usage plan. And Verizon Wireless has Network Extender, a femtocell that supports CDMA 1x service. It has not announced 3G femto plans yet, although a spokesperson said in April that it plans to offer a product at some point.