It's definitely one of the first things we thought of trying with AT&T's 3G MicroCell
back in 2009, but our dreams were quickly dashed after finding that said device was hard-wired to only operate when receiving a GPS lock within the United States of America. Thankfully, it looks as if at least a few engineers at Ubiquisys are riding our same train of thought, and come Mobile World Congress, it'll be debuting the device of our dreams. The Attocell is described as a personal femtocell
for use with 3G smartphones, and best of all, it's designed
for use internationally. In essence, this would allow a smartphone from one country to use their international web connection to tunnel a cell call through -- presumably free of charge -- and definitely bypassing those nasty roaming fees that are incurred when ringing through an overseas cellular network. The company admits that it has been tested with the iPhone, BlackBerry handsets, a few Nokia phones and a gaggle of Android handsets, and we're guessing that Windows Phone 7 and webOS users won't have any issues, either.
The idea is fairly simple: connect the Attocell to your laptop via USB, which provides power and an internet connection. From there, it'll analyze the IP address and radio environment to determine which country it is in, and sets its 3G radio power accordingly to below the licensed level. In some countries its range will be just five millimeters, in other countries, it could cover a whole room. For those in the former, you'll need to place your phone atop the dongle and use a Bluetooth headset to make a call, but hey, it's still better than paying AT&T two arms and the vast majority of a leg just to phone home from wherever you may be. Crazier still, Ubiquisys thinks that the device's low power output -- coupled with its ability to "continuously monitor its radio environment to ensure that there is zero impact on existing mobile networks" -- will make the Attocell exempt from regulatory controls and the requirement for type approval. Here's hoping it flies through just as the company hopes, and we'll be hitting the floor in Barcelona to pry out a price point, release date any carrier deals they've managed to land.