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New York Times: Bringing You a Signal You’re Already Paying For

SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with withering criticism for its spotty iPhone service, AT&T blames in part a shortage of cellphone towers near homes and businesses. But it has a solution: put a miniature cell tower in your living room.

There’s a catch, though. You have to pay for it. And that is making some customers angry.

The size of a couple of decks of cards, these mini-towers act and look like Wi-Fi hot spots at cafes, and redirect cellphone calls from congested cell towers to home Web connections.

“It’s a fabulous idea, especially if you can’t get service, but to charge for it is insulting,” said Christina Zachariades, 28, of Manhattan who already pays $130 a month for iPhone service but cannot receive or make calls in her fifth-floor apartment on the Upper East Side. “How much more do I have to pay to get the service required for me to use my phone?”

Despite complaints like this, the technology is poised for big sales, thanks to price drops but also because of the entrance into the market by AT&T. Other companies — Verizon, for example — have already marketed their mini-towers for niche use to customers in places with limited cellphone signals, like basements or homes with particularly thick walls.

But although AT&T says its mini-towers will help in that kind of situation, it also acknowledges that it wants to help iPhone users who cannot get consistent signals.

The company, which has been testing such devices in a few markets, plans to officially start selling this month what it calls “MicroCells” in a few places for $150.

Even though the calls would be offloaded to an Internet service provider, AT&T customers would be charged for the minutes of phone service in their existing wireless plans unless they pay an extra $20 a month for unlimited calling. (The call volume is not expected to clog the Internet’s pipes.)

Over the long term, basic economics favors mini-towers in homes over big towers, said Pasquale Romano, chief executive of 2Wire Inc., a company in San Jose, Calif., that is developing one of the devices.

He said it did not make sense for carriers to spend money building large towers in residential areas because most people are not home during the day; as it is, AT&T already plans to spend $8 billion this year on improving its wireless coverage, including on big towers, according to public filings.

And the mini-tower, Mr. Romano said, will pay consumers a big dividend. “It’ll make your cellphone work perfectly at home,” he said.

Read the Full Article at The New York Times

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