Can You Hear Me Now?

New technology offers hope to people with bad cell phone service at home

For frustrated cell phone users who complain of poor reception at home, a new gadget that acts like a “mini-cell phone tower” may be just the cure.

“It does exactly what it’s supposed to do,” said remodeling consultant Jerry DeFeo of Garland. “I have my own little mini-cell phone tower right here in my home.”

Before he bought the device, he said he had trouble talking to customers who called him on his cell phone when he was home.

“If I ever had two (bars) in the past, it was a miracle,” he said. “If you look at it now, it’s sitting there at five bars of signal.”

The new technology, called “femtocells,” connects through the customer’s broadband Internet connection.

A small box the size of a computer modem essentially intercepts the cell phone’s signal and routes it through the Internet instead of a cell phone tower.

“Some people don’t have the best coverage in their home,” said Sprint Nextel sales manager Lou Granberry. “This is a great product we developed to solve that need.”

Sprint Nextel calls its technology “Airave.”  T-Mobile has a similar device, and other cell phone companies including AT&T expect to offer their own systems within months.

The Airave box costs $100.  There’s also a monthly charge of $5 to $20, depending on the number of minutes and the number of phones in the plan.

The device works on Sprint phones but not Nextel phones, Granberry said.

DeFeo, the Garland consultant, said it’s a small price to pay for reception as if he were parked right next to a cell phone tower.

“And I am,” he said. “I have the tower right here, in my own home.”

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