Sprint’s Next-Gen Airave Femtocell Goes 3G

Sprint Nextel is looking to bring 3G connectivity to its femtocell products, aiming to extend the benefits of smartphones into areas where wireless service is unavailable.

Femtocell devices are basically cellular phone access points and plug into a broadband connection to deliver local cell service in locations where traditional signals don’t work, such as fringe reception areas, buildings with underground levels and areas that suffer from interference problems.

Currently, most femtocell devices only offer basic cellular signals, working to bring voice and text-messaging capabilities to a device linked to the femtocell. Sprint Nextel is looking to overcome functionality limitations by incorporating 3G service into its Airave-branded femtocells. The current version of Sprint’s Airave, which is made by Samsung, was released in the summer of 2008 and supports only CDMA 1x service.

For providers of unified communication products and business using smartphones, adding 3G back into the equation restores functionality to advanced handheld devices. Those devices can remain integrated into corporate services, even when used at a branch office or location with poor signal strength. That might make a smartphone a more compelling endpoint for many corporate users.

Darrel Bowman, CEO of, a Tacoma, Wash.-based solution provider, sees a need for improved 3G access. “As mobile devices continue to proliferate in our businesses, the need for improved security will continue. I believe femtocell technology will gain popular acceptance where adoption will improve network access and increase security and protection for corporate assets,” he said.

Sprint Nextel is not the first to push advanced networking via a femtocell; AT&T unveiled what it calls its 3G MicroCell at the CTIA Wireless show last month. The 3G MicroCell was developed with Cisco and will be available for $149.99. Sprint currently charges $99.99 for its Airave device, plus an “Enhanced Coverage” fee of $4.99 per month. Verizon Wireless also has a femtocell that supports CDMA 1x service, called the Network Extender.

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