Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sprint's Airave: A VoIP Alternative

Being on the bleeding edge is not all that it is cracked up to be. Monday I wrote about Sprint's Airave femtocell where they provide unlimited calling to and from the same CDMA phone as long as callers are in range of the cell. My personal attraction to the device was to cover the poor reception that I receive around my home. The Sprint Customer Retention department suggested solving the problem by roaming since Verizon's coverage is much better. Although their remedy would have solved my voice reception problems, I would still have limited to no EV-DO access. My response back to the representative was, "Why would I maintain an account with Sprint for a crippled service when I could switch to Verizon and have it all?" They were dumbfounded, and I gave up.

Installation of Sprint's Airave

A picture of my fully functional Airave taken by my Sprint phone and posted directly to my blog through the femtocell.

Moments later Sprint's Technical Support group (Tier 1) called back and was appalled at Customer Retention's suggestion to roam on the Verizon network. "What kind of retention plan is that?" the technician muttered. She recommended picking up an Airave at my local Sprint retail outlet. A few hours later, I drove to the Longmont Sprint store to pick up a free Airave adapter. The store manager and a salesman struggled for 30 minutes to just scan the ESN and add the service to my account. Finally they gave up and just handed me the box with the instructions to dial *2.

I thought I would activate the product during my drive to Denver Wednesday evening. Of course the activation representative had no clue about the Airave, so they transferred me to EMBARQ's customer service line. Fortunately, I knew how to reach the only group in Sprint currently supporting Airave from my previous adventures with them. After almost an hour on the phone with an advanced technician, she admitted that she could not activate the device. She escalated a trouble ticket to the project manager that would get back to me within 53 hours. Does anyone know why they always say 53 hours?

Finally Friday, after many calls and hours spent with Sprint, my Airave was should start working around 3 P.M. I waited...and waited...and waited for the 4 blue lights to illuminate. I was about to put the device back in its box when shortly after 5 P.M. the GPS light turned blue followed by the System light turning blue. They stayed illuminated for a few minutes before reverting to their typical red state. I powered down my phone and powered it up again. The lights all turned blue and I could actually make calls through it. Valhalla!

For the next hour, I wandered around the house making calls, receiving calls, and testing the 1xRTT data service. I must say that the device works as advertised. My calls are clear and steady as I roam through half of my house. I can send and receive text messages plus roam the web. Sprint calls directed through the Airave remain of toll quality even when I load down my Internet connection. I wish I could say the same for my VoIP service. Funny too since the Airave is at the end of a chain of devices from cable modem, ATA, router, then Airave. My biggest complaint is that the signal falls off quicker than my Wi-Fi router. Sprint advertises an approximate coverage area of 5,000 square feet that equates to a 40 feet radius around the Airave in free space. Forty feet reaches just to the edge of our living room; not enough to cover the whole house unless I can figure a way to install it in the middle of my house. The supervisor that activated my device and set up my account informed me that they are considering increasing power levels to increase coverage.

After a few days playing with Airave, it really has the potential of replacing land lines especially for twentysomethings that have never purchased a POTS line. It offers the simplicity of a single number per person on a single device, and the cost is comparable to most VoIP or digital phone services. Families will benefit because they can each be on their phone simultaneously. No more shouting, "I'm on the phone," or purchasing multiple lines. Around our house we are always looking for the cordless phone that is ringing in the sofa cushions. E911 is supported through the built-in GPS receiver. The only reason I see why I should keep my VoIP service is the inexpensive international calling and slightly higher voice quality . I will be curious to note how our calling patterns shift over the next couple of months. Kudos to Sprint for embracing this technology instead of resisting it.

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