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Embarq Files for Universal Femtocell Patent

[qi:090] An alert reader sent me a link to a patent filed published yesterday by Embarq (s EQ), the wireline carrier currently trying to merge with CenturyTel. The patent is for a “universal femto cell,” and the gist of the patent is to create a femtocell that will work with any carrier. A femtocell is like a mini cell tower in the home that provides a better signal and routes the cellular traffic over the home’s wired broadband network.

Sprint (s S) and Verizon (s VZ) have femotcell products, and AT&T’s (s T) is coming. What’s interesting about this patent is that it attempts to take the femotcell out of carriers’ hands and place it in the realm of the wireline provider. After all, they do control the backhaul for these mini cell towers. However, tuning the universal femotcell to a carrier’s network could require approval from the carrier in order for the device to be recognized by the network — issues that relate more to business models than patentable technology.

In the case of Embarq — or any other wireline carrier that doesn’t have a wireless business — getting a universal femtocell would be a way to capture revenue from providing better cellular service inside people’s homes. And with people cutting the cord, wireline carriers need all the help they can get.

Of course, this is merely a patent filing. It’s not granted, and until I get more details from Embarq, I have no idea what it plans to do. Stay tuned.

11 Responses to “Embarq Files for Universal Femtocell Patent”

  1. geneonlbk

    I live in a small community and we need an affordable cell phone network. IP based multi-carrier picocells might be the answer if anyone knows of such equipment.

    I do not believe carrier specific femtocells will sell as too many families have different carriers as well as visitors and tourists.

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    First, as you correctly point out Femtocell still requires provisioning within the carrier’s Switch. If the carrier does not want to let the user set this up, there is nothing the backhaul provider can do to help. This device is only useful to a wireline carrier that can cut deals with multiple wireless carriers and even then it is only useful if it is priced in such a fashion that it would make more sense than just stocking various carrier appropriate models of non-universal devices — which seems unlikely.

    Second, this patent claim is garbage. Universal base-stations with IP backhaul already exist. The things that might be patentable are the specifics of the proposed method of configuration, but to try and bundle in the entire device is ridiculous. Sadly, the wireless world is full of such unsupportable patents that have actually been granted.

  3. This is really interesting. Aren’t femtocells the biggest argument for cutting the cord? How then, does Embarq think will benefit them when it seemingly cannibalizes their own core product?

    Does anyone know if Embarq sells DSL without a phone line attachment? Maybe they’re trying to tout their broadband and asking people to stop using their copper for circuit switched phone…

  4. Steve G.

    I didn’t mean to be a pest; as a patent attorney, it’s one of those things that drives me nuts when I read about patents in the non-lawyer media.

  5. Steve G.


    The patent was not filed yesterday. It was filed August 31, 2007. It was published yesterday, about 18 months from the filing date as per USPTO rules.