At the same time we bought the Samsung Instinct smart phones from Sprint, we also picked up one of their femtocells, The Airave.
A femtocell is basically a personal cell site. It is a box that looks like a wi-fi access point. It plugs into your broadband. To your phone, it appears to be a cell tower. Without it, we get a single bar in the house, with it from three to five bars depending on where in the house you are.
It makes the phones useful in the house, since our street is a dead zone. otherwise.
The Airave cost $99 to buy, and then $5 a month. Our previous provider, Verizon is rumored to have their own femtocell about to come out for $249 and no monthly fee. They have been lauded for the no monthly fee, but personally I feel comfortable with Sprint's five dollars a month. OK, sure after 30 months I'll be paying more for the Airwave. On the other hand, Sprint has all those $5 checks coming in each month to motivate them to keep up their end of the infrastructure. Verizon could find the sales of the femtocell's flatline, and decide screw it, it isn't worth keeping up the servers that your signals go to since they aren't getting significant income anymore from it. It may seem cyncial of me to attribute such cynicism to them, but remember, this is the company that charges $3 a month for you to maintain your phone's address book online.
I've read where some think femtocell's are cop-outs by the cell companies. They will have to put in fewer cell sites if people adopt femtocells. I'm not sure that is right. They would have no control over what areas people are covering. There might be a cul-de-sac with femtocells in four of the five homes, and then a whole street where no one is comfortable enough with technology to even know femtocells exist.
I think the only way that they can be used to defray building out towers is if the cell companies actively recuited people to use them based on their location, and gave them incentives (like free femtocells and free installation) to use them.
That being said, today while walking the dog, I reeived a call while at the end of the street. As I took the call, I heard the beep that I hear in the house telling me the call is going through the Airave. Except, I was several houses past where I lose contact with our Airave. Someone on that corner has one too. I know several of my neighbors there--I need to check it out.
The Airave supports three simultaneious calls. With three of us in the house, it is conceivable someone on the street or in a neighboring house could block one of us from calling. Unlikely. There is apparently a way to limit the phones to your own, but I've read it does not work, and I've not tried it.
Now, if a certain family down the street were in range of my femtocell, I'd have to rethink my options before their six girls get into their teen years.