2010/01/08

In a previous entry, I talked about AT&T’s plan to make microcell (a.k.a. femotcell) technology available to their subscribers. From their CES presentation, it looks like a company named MagicJack has beat them to it. You may recognize the MagicJack name from those low-budget late night commercials. They have a product that plugs into your USB port, and provides a standard RJ45 jack to make VoIP calls, for $20 / month, free for the first year. Despite the cheesy commercials, it’s a decent product, so says Consumer Reports.

Now their are releasing something similar, but for GSM mobile networks. Plug in their USB device and install some software, and you have a mini cell tower in your house. Their product will route your GSM calls through VoIP bypassing your carrier’s network. It will cost the same price as the original MagicJack. Don’t ask me how they are allowed to do this. Isn’t it illegal to co-opt any frequency of the radio spectrum for your own purposes?

What prevents me from connecting to an arbitrary MagicJack femotcell without my knowledge? Can it be restricted to particular GSM devices? If I own the MagicJack, I don’t want to be clogging my network with my neighbor’s GSM traffic. If my neighbor has one, I don’t want my calls going through their unsecured network, not to mention that the quality, and availability of the network is completely out of my control and unsupported. Can you imagine the support nightmare that would make for carriers when they can no longer tell if a user is connected to their network or an arbitrary unregulated femtocell somewhere?

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The idea that anyone with an internet connection and a computer can create a cell tower is intriguing to say the least.

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