MagicJack's next act: disappearing cell phone fees
Jan 8, 12:01 PM (ET)
By PETER SVENSSON
LAS VEGAS (AP) - The company behind the magicJack, the cheap Internet phone gadget that's been heavily promoted on TV, has made a new version of the device that allows free calls from cell phones in the home, in a fashion that's sure to draw protest from cellular carriers.
The new magicJack uses, without permission, radio frequencies for which cellular carriers have paid billions of dollars for exclusive licenses.
I saw this today at CAS, but I don't have a GSM phone.
This will really benefit me. I live at the very south end of the greater Los Angeles wireless area, whatever those are officially called. I am in a concrete building that faces south two miles from the San Diego county line. The towers in the LA service area are a couple miles north, thus blocked completely by our building. The first tower in the San Diego area is about 10 miles away, so it doesn't work even though our big windows face it.
Similarly situated people have complained to the wireless carriers, which tell us to pound sand.
Since I am on AT$T I guess this could help me. But, I doubt it will handle incoming calls.
... which is ridiculous. It may be the case that they're working at under 100mw which has long been the limit for unlicensed AM and FM transmissions, but that's unrelated to whether it's in a house.
On the other hand, the article neglects to mention that this device in effect turns your cell phone into an expensive outgoing only cordless phone. While your phone is registered with the Magicjack, it's not on your regular carrier's network, so you can't get any incoming calls. It's not clear from the short description in the story whether they will assign an incoming phone number of their own like they do for the current Magicjack.
If I were AT&T or T-Mobile, I would argue that this device interferes with normal GSM operation, and it would be true.
Yes, of course. The company is owned by a CLEC which has numbers all over the country, and they assign one as soon as you plug in your device and it registers itself.
PS: A 20 second visit to magicjack.com would have answered this question much more quickly.
***** Moderator's Note *****
According to an article in the Winter 2009-2010 issue of "2600":
"While the underlying carrier (YMAX) is a CLEC, MagickJack is specifically not offered as a CLEC product." The article says MagickJack claims to be a "multimedia experience which includes a voice over Internet information service feature. It is not a telecommunications service, and is subject to different regulatory treatment from telecommunications services". It's an open question as to why MagicJack's owners take such pains to try and distance their offering from FCC and local PUC regulation.
Also, according to 2600, the MagickJack software *cannot**be*
*uninstalled*, even if a customer returns the MagickJack. The author also rates MagickJack's voice quality "between poor and terrible", and goes on to say that "In my market, MagicJack quality is so poor that the service is virtually unusable". He also notes that "... when you install the software, the End User License Agreement (EULA) has a few nasty surprises", which includes the right to send the customer commercial email messages, display ads on the computer, and supply computer-usage details to Google.
Suffice to say, I'd be very careful about purchasing *any* MagickJack offering, whether a femtocell unit or otherwise.
If it were limited to my house how would that be true? Especially in my case where the carriers don't provide adequate signal strength into my residence?
***** Moderator's Note *****
It's not a zero-sum game. The FCC is probably concerned that such a device could become common enough that they would have trouble enforcing the rules at a later date: I'd bet they feel it's better to nip it in the bud.
Don't forget that bureaucracies have very long memories: the FCC is, no doubt, harening back to the way the Citizens Band grew into a monster that they can't control even today.
Sounds much like a clone of the Verizon femtocell unit (officially known as a "Verizon Wireless Network Extender") that people have been talking about elsewhere in the newsgroup.
If Verizon can do it "legally" there is no reason someone else can not do the same thing provided they don't step on someone else's patents, but then again phone companies seem to hate competition from startup companies. Especially if the competitors product actually works.
***** Moderator's Note *****
The problem is that it's _NOT_ the same thing as a Verizon femtocell: it is, as another reader pointed out, only a way to turn a cell phone into a cordless phone. The Verizon offering gives customers access to their regular cellphone features, such as voicemail, but the proposed MagicJack product does not.
Not really. My presumption was being able to receive a call made to my cell phone number. It appears call forwarding would have to be used to make that work, which in this circumstance, would be a giant PITA.
Can I throw my $0.50 (inflation, you know) thoughts into this?
Yes, it's [expletive deleted] annoying that they charge this amount, but:
a: it's not a life saving necessity. People have the choice whether to use this service or not.
b: the business world is filled with products where the marginal cost of manufacture/distribution is just about negligible. Since we're discussing telecom, just ask yourself how much it costs a satellite tv company to add another subscriber?
Putting on my mobile carrier hat, I would say that there is no way to tell where someone might install one of these things, and it's clearly being marketed as a way to bypass the carriers' network, not as a signal booster.
I'm not a big fan of any of the mobile carriers, but this does not impress me as a viable way to circumvent them. If the mobile carriers weren't such doofuses, they would give you a free real femtocell if you'd promise to keep service on your cell phone for some period, a year or two.
As best I understand the situation (not an expert), I agree it's NOT the same. To have a Verizon femtocell, you have to have a full-bore Verizon cellphone account, and a Verizon cellphone that talks to that account through a regular tower when it's near one, and through your little femtocell tower when it's the closest/strongest "tower".
I actually looked up Part 15, and it looks like you are allowed substantial unlicensed emission above 1 GHz. Enough emission that from 30 feet away you should be in the 60 mV/m2 range which is probably plenty of power.
So, the more I look at this, the more I think this probably _is_ legal, probably _is_ unlicensed, and probably is going to be pretty effective. --scott