Sprint Nextel introduced a new product Monday to help improve cell phone coverage indoors.
The new Sprint Airave is a femtocell or compact wireless base station that boosts cellular signals indoors to provide enhanced coverage up to 5,000 square feet. The device, which can handle up to three calls at one time, is available for purchase in Sprint stores in Denver and Indianapolis. It will be available throughout Sprint's network sometime in 2008.
The device works with an existing broadband connection to send calls over the Internet instead of using Sprint's cellular network. When subscribers leave the range of the device, the call switches to Sprint's wireless network.
Sprint is selling the Airave, which is made by Samsung, for $49.99. Subscribers who use the Airave will pay an additional $15 a month for unlimited calls within the Airave home network. Families can access the Airave signal on multiple Sprint phones for $30 a month. Calls that switch over to Sprint's regular cellular network will be charged usual calling plan rates. Currently, the service only works on Sprint handsets. And it's not available for use with any Nextel handsets.
The service is similar to one launched by T-Mobile earlier this year, called HotSpot @Home. The main difference is that T-Mobile's service uses unlicensed Wi-Fi signals of cellular frequencies. And while the Sprint Airave service can be used with any Sprint phone, T-Mobile's service requires users get a special handset.
Still the concept of using IP technology to improve indoor wireless coverage is the same.
The femtocell technology that Sprint is using not only helps users conserve cell phone minutes while they're at home, but it also reduces traffic on the cellular network, which could potentially improve overall quality of the entire network by reducing congestion.