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Verizon Wireless Markets Femtocell

Basking Ridge, N.J. – The cellular industry’s femtocell fetish is growing.

Verizon Wireless is joining Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile in offering femtocell hardware and service that could encourage more consumers to give up their landline phone.

The carrier began offering a $249 Network Extender, a femtocell that acts like an in-home cellular base station. The device is targeted to subscribers who experience low signal strength in their homes because of structural or geographic conditions.

Verizon’s Samsung-made femtocell, the same model offered by Sprint Nextel, communicates with any registered Verizon CDMA phone over cellular airwaves within 5,000 square feet, then routes a cellular conversation over a home’s connected broadband modem. When a subscriber walks out of femtocell range during a conversation, the call is handed off to Verizon’s cell sites.

The Extender does not support Verizon’s EV-DO speeds or services requiring those speeds, but the Extender nonetheless supports wireless data services such as messaging and Web browsing.

Verizon’s femtocell is available direct from Verizon through the carrier’s Web site, telemarketing staff and select Verizon Wireless Communications Stores.

Unlike Sprint Nextel, Verizon is not requiring a monthly fee per phone to use the femtocell, but Verizon is pricing its version higher than Sprint, which sells the femtocell at $99.99 and charges $4.99/month per phone on top of a family’s regular monthly charges.

At both carriers, minutes spent talking on the phone via the femtocell count toward a plan’s regular wireless minutes.

Carrier T-Mobile offers a landline-replace service called [email protected], but the service requires the purchase of a Wi-Fi-equipped phone to route calls over a home’s broadband-connected wireless home network. The Sprint and Verizon services, on the other hand, can be used with any of those carriers’ CDMA phones.

T-Mobile’s service also lets users place calls through T-Mobile’s public Wi-Fi hot spots. T-Mobile’s [email protected] service costs $10/month on top of a cellular voice plan, and the price includes unlimited Wi-Fi calling.