MagicJack femtocell sure to face legal battle royale

Despite MagicJack's official announcement last week of an in-home femtocell for connecting carriers' phones directly to its service, tons of questions remain -- including most of the questions we had when we first heard of the idea. Let's recap those questions and where we stand with each of them, shall we?

  • Are these guys licensing spectrum from the gub'mint, sublicensing it from carriers, or just going rogue? Going rogue. Historically, this usually ends in an FCC-mandated shutdown -- and since both carriers and the CTIA will undoubtedly be throwing a fit that some company is stealing pricey spectrum for its own purposes, we're sure the pressure on the government to act will be quite high.

  • Are any carriers in on this, and if so, why? Nope, none. The company says that "if they were smart they would take [it] on as a partner, because all [it] could do is enhance the value they create for their customer," but presently, MagicJack's all alone.

  • If carriers aren't involved, why would they establish roaming deals that would allow carrier-branded phones and SIMs to roam on MagicJack's rogue airwaves? As far as we can tell, they aren't on any roaming deals.

  • If they're not working on roaming deals, the femtocells will need to spoof a carrier ID. Furthermore, TDMA femtocells are virtually impossible to design and install for technical reasons, which means these would have to be 3G. So MagicJack's going to offer a UMTS femtocell? It appears to be a plain-Jane GSM femtocell, which is technically interesting considering what we've heard in the past about effectively making a TDMA unit that plays nice with the surrounding network. Considering everything else we know, though, it probably doesn't play nice -- and without a roaming deal in place, they'll need to spoof. That's going to rile up both carriers and the GSMA.

  • Do you get to keep your phone number when you roam on the MagicFemtocell, and if so, how? For incoming calls, probably not, unless you forward to the MagicJack number.

Needless to say, both the carriers and the feds are going to have a lot to say about this product -- particularly considering that it hasn't even received FCC approval yet. If it keeps marching toward retail, we could be gearing up for one of the most entertaining legal battles of the year.