So it's a quandary. Your house is in a service dead zone, and you don't want to shell out $150 more for something you're paying for already. What's worth more, principle or a functioning phone? That decision might be over.
The people at picoChip might have something to change the femtocell's most galling flaw: price. As we know, the things work great—lifechanger great. Who wouldn't want perfect coverage throughout their entire home? We all would. But who wants to pay extra for it? Well, that's another story.
But a new chipset, drawing fewer than 5 watts of power and, more importantly, costing only $50, could drive an entire new generation of femtocell systems, spreading cheap, perfect HSPA+ or 3G through your apartment, office, and even Times Square. The guts—a cheap chip on a simple wafer only several inches large—packs the antennae necessary to inflate not just your own private bubble of beautiful signal, but one that could—with the use of multiple, synced boxes—cover rolling rural areas with clear signals too. Or, as picoChip pointed out, their tech could be easily slipped into an connected media box—a Roku that blasted your house with cellular service might not be such a bad idea.
But no matter its form, with the cost of manufacturing the femtocell box sliced into quarters, the pain of your decision to buy one might go from a resentful ache to a slight pinch. You might not love the idea, but at a certain point, this might become so cheap that you'll just bite the bullet.
picoChip's new boards are HSPA+ only for now, with a 3G version coming later this year. When we spoke with Rupert Baines of picoChip, we asked about femtocell tech's other rather annoying quirk—having MicroCell usage count towards your plan minutes, even when you're using your own internet connection to carry them (possibly that of another company!). His answer wasn't definitive (nor need it be, as he's on the hardware side of things, not in AT&T's boardroom), but he's confident that driving the price of femtocell chips into the basement will force carriers to compete away from price—such as offering signal boosters that don't scrape away your minute pool. This might be an optimistic confidence in the ability of the market to go to bat for us, but those still suffering from shoddy service might have reason for hope. [picoChip]