Add AT&T (s t) to the list of operators looking to create a new revenue stream even as they move to offload network traffic. The nation’s second-largest carrier has launched a consumer trial of its 3G MicroCell, a femtocell that uses the customer’s home Internet connection to connect to AT&T’s network for both voice and data usage. The device — which is available only in Charlotte, N.C., following AT&T employee trials earlier this year — is being offered for $150, with a $100 rebate for users who sign up for a $20 monthly 3G MicroCell plan, which enables unlimited calling for those within range of the gadget.
The pricing structure is one of the things being tested in this trial, according to an AT&T spokesperson. And MicroCell’s price tag falls in line with that of femtocells from Sprint’s (S s) Airave ($100 device fee plus a minimum $5 monthly subscription), Verizon Wireless’s Wireless Network Extender ($250 one-time device fee; no subscription or usage charges) and others. But asking users to shell out to cover a carrier’s holes in its own network isn’t exactly the path to riches, as evidenced by the slow uptake of femtocells by mobile users around the world. Until femtocell prices come down substantially, femtocells will continue to be a niche offering for high-end users with poor in-h0me coverage and no other alternative. And carriers will continue to struggle with how to manage increasing data traffic on their networks.