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TheStreet Open House

This Phone Signal-Boosting Device Is Not for Everyone

Stocks in this article: TSVZBBY

But don't give up hope entirely, says Joe Hoffman, principal analyst for mobile networks with ABI Research.

"There's no reason that couldn't happen. You can go into Best Buy and buy a phone today," Hoffman said. "It's just the economics. Maybe when the price gets down to $100."

On paper, T-Mobile, which happens to be my carrier, committed to offering a femtocell, according to the Forum's market update in June. So have small, regional carriers General Communication (GNCMA) in Alaska and Cellcom in Wisconsin.

When asked about the future of the devices in T-Mobile's future, the company offered this statement:

"Although we continue to review customer premise equipment solutions like femtocells and repeaters, we have no plans to deliver a femtocell product. The beauty of Wi-Fi Calling is that it turns any open Wi-Fi access point into an instant coverage area for Wi-Fi Calling enabled handsets. So, while femtocells benefit one location, a Wi-Fi Calling customer sees benefit in multiple locations."

Femtocells, which aren't perfect but get a steady stream of superior reviews, started showing up in the U.S. in 2007. But even with the promise of better indoor Internet, high prices kept customers away. Some customers argued they shouldn't have to pay extra for a service for which they already pay. Last year, the three carriers began giving devices away for free to those complaining of poor indoor service.

This year, approximately five million femtocell devices will be sold worldwide, estimates ABI Research.

"In the next five years, we think that number is going to grow 10 times," said Hoffman, who got his own AT&T femtocell a few years ago and watched his 1-to-2 bar reception go to full bars in his house.

But five million femtocells a year pales in comparison to the 1.9 billion cellphones forecast to be sold this year by Gartner, a research and advisory firm.

Hoffman believes many people don't know or understand the purpose of a femtocell.

"Most people I talk to about it say, 'Why would I want that?' It's another box in the house. When cellphone coverage isn't good in the house, it's the cellphone company's fault," he said. "Generally speaking, when you can't get good signal inside, you switch carriers."

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