AT&T – the largest mobile operator in the US with over 70 million subscribers – is reported to have signed a contract with UK startup ip.access for the supply of up to 7 million femtocells in a deal worth as much as US$500 million over five years. RCR Wireless News cites a report from research and banking firm ThinkPanmure that claims AT&T will sell the devices for approximately US$100 each. Both AT&T and ip.access are yet to confirm the deal, and a spokeswoman for AT&T would only tell RCR Wireless News that the operator plans to conduct a femtocell trial later this year.
The femtocell sector has already experienced significant momentum, but this contract, if true, would be the market’s highest profile deal to date. Earlier this month rival US operator Verizon admitted it was closely examining how femtocells could help improve its CDMA coverage. Sprint Nextel has already taken the decision to use femtocells and has started to sell the devices to consumers in Denver, Indianapolis and Nashville. Meanwhile Vodafone has said it could launch a commercial service by the end of this year and believes the home basestation technology may reduce capex by up to 20%. Other operators trialling femtocells include Telefonica O2 Europe and TeliaSonera. Last month T-Mobile’s venture arm also announced it is trialling femtocells from British startup Ubiquisys and has also made an undisclosed investment in the company, mirroring an earlier move by Google. The vendor at the centre of today’s report – ip.access – has already received an undisclosed investment from Cisco Systems.