AT&T has stunned me again. Faced with widespread consumer anger over its poor wireless data and voice services, the reincarnated Ma Bell is going to offer its customers a fix: a mini cell repeater in their home, using femtocell technology. Here's the astonishing catch: You'll have to pay for it.
That's right. AT&T is admitting that its mobile service is subpar (I'd use the word "stinks") in many areas, so it will charge its customers as much as $150 to buy a so-called MicroCell that will give them what they expected in the first place: decent connectivity.
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I'm struggling to think of an analogy. Is there any other business that would have the chutzpah to do something similar? Microsoft sells seriously flawed software, but at least the company has the decency to offer its never-ending stream of Windows patches for free. How would you like to pay $5 every time someone finds yet another security hole in Vista? AT&T may have invented the mother of all "gotcha" fees.
AT&T fears Verizon
AT&T has been promising iPhone customers better service for some time and says it expects to spend $2 billion more on improvements to its wireless network this year and add twice as much capacity as it did in 2009. If that's the case, why do dissatisfied customers have to shoulder the load? I think I have a one-word answer to that question: Verizon.
AT&T knows that should there be truth to the long-running rumor that Apple will end its exclusive iPhone deal with Ma Bell and add Verizon as a partner. If that happens, a wave of customer defections will surely follow. There's nothing the company can do to stop that churn, but there may be a few ways the femtocells will help reduce it.