New Verizon femtocell service is a bad joke [BroadbandReports]

It's interesting to note that during this morning's conference call, Verizon executives insisted that their new $250 Wireless Network Extender, launched yesterday, was the "weapon of the century." Femtocells could very well be the rage of 2009, but you wouldn't know it by looking at Verizon's offering -- the telco structuring their service in such a way as to give it virtually no value to consumers. The day after general launch consensus of Verizon's new service seems to be that it's somewhere between a joke and an insult.

For starters, like Sprint's AiRave service, Verizon's Network Extender doesn't support EVDO, already limiting its usefulness. And while there's no monthly fee for Verizon's service, there's also no unlimited calling option, either. Sprint's AiRave offers unlimited calling for $10/month for a single line or $20/month for multi-line households.

As designed, Verizon's product also doesn't give you substantive control over who accesses the unit. According to the Verizon Network Extender FAQ, the device doesn't let you prevent locals from making calls over your broadband connection. The device has a restriction of three calls at a time, though it does at least allow you to give yourself and your family call priority, according to the FAQ:

You can set your Network Extender for open or managed access. Open Access allows any Verizon Wireless phone within range to use your Network Extender. Under Managed Access, you have the ability to prioritize access to your Network Extender to up to 50 Verizon Wireless callers you select. Where a compatible cell tower is unavailable, callers that do not appear on your managed access list may access the Network Extender when not in use by priority callers.
Because the device has an initialization range of just fifteen feet (though a 5,000 square foot effectiveness range once connected), that's less of a problem for users who don't live in cramped apartment buildings. Still, it's something could be problematic for apartment broadband users brush up against monthly consumption caps, or those who just don't want to share their bandwidth with neighbors.

But the most insulting shortcoming of Verizon's new device is that using the service still gobbles up your Verizon Wireless minutes -- even if the unit is hooked up to a competing company's broadband line. From the FAQ:

There are no additional costs to use the Network Extender. You only need to purchase the unit. All rates and policies associated with your chosen calling plan also apply when connected to the Network Extender.
That's right, you lose minutes despite the fact you'd be reducing strain on local towers and routing calls over infrastructure Verizon doesn't own. That's either technical incompetence or maliciousness on the part of Verizon, and is the primary reason that consumers should stay far, far away.

As it stands, the Extender seems more like a poorly considered beta than a serious innovation "weapon." Unless you're a rural broadband user with poor indoor cell coverage and $250 burning a hole in your pocket, it's simply not a very compelling offering. It's possible that future revisions could evolve to offer consumers actual value, but for now the device remains a bit of an insult on Verizon's part.
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by Ben Pike