Tracey Higginbotham over on GigaOm reports that Embarq has published a patent application for something called a Universal Femtocell. The idea behind a universal femtocell is that it can be configured to work with any cell phone network, much like a universal remote control works with any DVD/TV/etc (except the one you happen to have of course). Of course, Embarq doesn’t have a wireless business and won’t have one after it has merged with CenturyTel either. While this is just a patent filing and not a product offering, it does lead to the basic question: why is Embarq dabbling in femtocells at all?
The largest US wireless providers (Sprint, Verizon Wireless, AT&T) have been rolling out early femtocell products designed to improve indoor coverage, getting the users to pay for the privilege. Does it make sense for wireline providers to offer femtocells to their customers to do the same thing? They would be increasing traffic on their own networks, but if they can get the consumer to pay for it it might be worthwhile. The consumer could then switch wireless providers without needing to buy a new femtocell. But it seems as though the wireline provider would need permission from each wireless provider to connect their femtocells to it, yes? Offering consumers greater ability to switch providers isn’t what these guys are known for. One of the attractions of femtocells to big wireless companies is that once you sell one to a consumer your relationship with them is much stronger.
This patent of Embarq raises the same questions as the rumored MagicJack femtocell. Is there a business model for non-wireless providers to offer these things?
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