Yesterday we told you about VoIP provider magicJack’s intention to offer a femtocell that, they claimed, would work with any GSM cellphone – even those without service – but at the time we didn’t know exactly how the system worked. Unfortunately, now that details have emerged we’re not entirely convinced it’s the greatest of ideas, either from a legal or a functional perspective. It turns out the new magicJack uses, without being granted permission from the carriers who have licensed it, cellphone radio frequencies to connect GSM phones to a personal cellular base-station.
As with the original magicJack, the adapter plugs into a broadband-enabled computer. Users must first move their phone within eight feet of the magicJack femto, which will then place a call to the handset. After punching in a code, both are connected and – as long as you stay within range, roughly sufficient to cover a 3,000 square foot home – all calls are routed over the magicJack’s VoIP connection.
The CEO of magicJack parent company YMax, Dan Borislow, reckons that the new femtocell occupies a legal black hole since carriers’ wireless spectrum licenses don’t extend into the home. Testing at CES apparently showed that the new system worked with a handset from T-Mobile, and indeed any GSM handset should suffice. magicJack plan to sell the femtocell for $40, which includes free calls to the US and Canada for a year.
AT&T, T-Mobile and the FCC, meanwhile, are looking into the legality of the system, and had no immediate comment.