Over the weekend there was a bit of discussion on the blogs about AT&T's Femtocell and its value proposition. Over on BroadbandReports, AT&T's Seth Bloom was quoted as follows:
3G MicroCell is primarily intended to enhance the voice call quality experience in your home. While it can carry mobile data traffic, that’s not the primary solution it provides. Wi-Fi is the optimal solution for home mobile data use. We encourage people to take advantage of Wi-Fi capabilities - that’s why all of our smartphones include Wi-Fi radios, and usage on Wi-Fi doesn’t count against your mobile data usage bucket.
Now as that site is consumer focused, its main beef was just why AT&T should be charging bandwidth usage on the femtocell against the same account as bandwidth going through nearby towers for those without a femtocell. That sounds both outrageous and silly to me too, but I'm wondering about the middle sentence: "Wi-Fi is the optimal solution for home mobile data use".
I have thought that the data offload capabilities of femtocells were really the whole point for carriers, economically. Less data going through towers would lessen the congestion and generally make the economics work out more easily. So, if according to aT&T, WiFi is best for data, and voice calls can easily go across a data network now, where is the economic rationale for a femtocell? Dean Bubley makes the argument that it's much more of a pain to set up a phone to use WiFi versus a femtocell, but that's just configuration that someone will figure out soon given the economic driver behind it. Hasn't WiFi won already, with the details of convenience just a speed bump away?
A femtocell whose value proposition is limited to voice, which itself works well enough over WiFi, seems like a waste of time for AT&T or any other carrier. Why not just make the phones work operate over wifi out of the box? Following the iPhone congestion issues, it should be clear that scaling the network for data is everything. Offering better indoor coverage to people via a 3G femtocell that doesn't participate in that mileau will swiftly lose all relevance.