The argument that technology is making our world smaller has been bandied around for years. Thanks to the femtocell company Ubiquisys, proponents of that statement now have even more firepower. The British company has developed the world's first base station for international travelers, allowing them to make mobile phone calls without the added international roaming rates.
In a press release, Ubiquisys calls it an attocell -- a personal femtocell -- that was developed specifically for the iPhone, but works with any 3G-enabled device. It's been tested on BlackBerry, Nokia, and Android smartphones.
Here's how the attocell works: The device, slightly larger than a smartphone itself, connects to an internet-enabled laptop or PC via USB cable. It analyzes the IP and radio environment to determine what country it is in, and then sets its 3G radio power to just below the licensed level. It continuously monitors the radio environment to ensure that there is no impact on the mobile network.
There is one downside, though. In some countries, the attocell's range will only be about 5mm. A smartphone would have to be laid directly on top of the attocell -- it connects automatically, like a femtocell -- and the user would have to either use a Bluetooth or wired headset, or speakerphone to make calls. But it sure beats paying upwards of $2 per minute to make the same call otherwise. And the range limit will not exist in other countries, where it could broadcast to cover an entire room.
According to Reuters, Ubiquisys already has the backing of Google, as well as Accel Partners, Advent Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, T-Mobile's venture fund, SerComm Corp., and UMC Capital Corporation. Despite slow adoption, industry analysts predict the market for femtocells to top $1 billion in the next few years.
Ubiquisys is set to showcase the attocell in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.