Monday, September 17, 2007

Sprint Nextel to Introduce the Airave

Here it comes! Although the story does point out that this technology doesn't work with Nextel phones, because they use the iDEN technology, this is a step in the right direction. Given that this unit will NOT work with iDEN phones, I'm going to guess that SprintNextel will never introduce a unit that does work on iDENs.

The reason I say this is because Motorola has been making the hybrid phones for Sprint. The hybrid uses CDMA (I think) technology for regular phone calls and then the iDEN network for the walkie talkie thingie. There will likely be no new pure iDEN phones made. Since all of Sprint's phones will eventually be on the CDMA network, there's no real investments to make on the iDEN side.

What does this mean for the pure Nextel user? Well nothing changes for you, but if you want to take advantage of this product, simply switch over to the Sprint network (no termination fee) and get yourself a typical CDMA phone (or the hybrid). You'll likely have to start a brand new contract with Sprint, but that may not be a problem for you. Taking advantage of this will give you crystal clear, unlimited usage at home. The only thing you'll need to worry about is Sprint's cellular coverage outside of your home, which they're claiming will be improved through less usage on their network (people using the Airave are talking over the internet, not Sprint's cell tower googlies). I don't mean to imply that I think that's just a line of bull, but I certainly couldn't validate or refute that claim. I do remember Carol being unhappy with her coverage under Sprint, but part of that had to do with a lack of coverage at home, which with the Airave, would no longer be an issue (she's with Verizon now).

I think for me, I'm still going to wait until my contract expires with Nextel and switch over to Verizon. I'm hoping and guessing that Verizon will have their own version of this product by then (July '08). I'm actually surprised that they haven't jumped on T-Mobile's idea with their HotSpot At Home sooner than Sprint did. However, Sprint may have an even larger interest in this type of product because they may soon own Vonage, which uses the same technology as the Airave and the HotSpot hoosie...anyway, read the article below.

Sprint Nextel to Introduce the Airave
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Sep 17, 12:57 AM (ET)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - One of the big complaints lodged against wireless phone companies is poor signal quality inside buildings, especially homes.

Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) is trying to overcome that obstacle with a device that boosts wireless signals indoors and directs the calls over the Internet.

The Airave, which Sprint will begin selling Monday in its stores in parts of Denver and Indianapolis, increases cell reception over an area of about 5,000 square feet and can handle up to three calls at once. It hooks into the customer's existing broadband connection, sending unlimited calls through the Internet instead of over Sprint's wireless network.

Once the customer leaves the device's range, calls automatically switch back to the wireless network.

The Airave retails for $49.99, although Sprint will offer initial rebates to lower the price, and users pay a monthly charge of $15 for individuals and $30 for families. Sprint, based in Reston, Va., with operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., plans to expand sales of the devices to the rest of the two initial test markets by the end of the year and begin rolling it out nationally next year.

It's the second such in-home service coming out this year, following the June release of a system offered by Deutsche Telekom AG' (DT)s T-Mobile USA that sends calls through a Wi-Fi router. That system requires specially equipped phones, while Airave works with any Sprint cellular phone.

It does not work with Nextel-branded phones, the company said.

Ajit Bhatia, director of product management for Sprint Nextel, said the Airave solves call quality problems for subscribers, a key reason they give when dropping service.

"Customer satisfaction is directly correlated with coverage satisfaction," Bhatia said.

Besides saving the customer from using their wireless minutes, the device also will reduce the amount of traffic on the mobile network, potentially improving signal quality in the immediate area and reducing the amount of new cell towers and other infrastructure Sprint will have to build to handle future growth.

"This is a very cost-effective way for us to support additional traffic," Bhatia said.

Bhatia said the company also is looking at a version of the Airave for small businesses that could handle a dozen or more calls at once.

Allen Nogee, principal analyst at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm In-Stat, said so-called femtocell technology has been on the drawing boards of wireless carriers in the U.S. and Europe for years. He estimated demand for the devices will be slow, growing to only 21.5 million units a year by 2011.

"It's a niche technology," Nogee said.

But he added that such devices could become popular in densely populated areas where wireless signals are a problem and it's more expensive for carriers to build cell sites.

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