Ubiquisys Attocell could enable roaming-free international cellphone calls

Femtocells aren’t new. For the past few years, they have trickled out onto Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint using various names, and while they’re perfect for those who have subpar cellphone coverage in their own home, they aren’t great for avid travelers dealing with international roaming. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, it works as such: a femtocell is a miniature cell tower, of sorts, which connects to your home broadband Internet connection. This basically creates a cell tower in your home, and it routes your calls out through the Internet instead of via the nearest “real” tower.

Unfortunately, all of the US carriers have locked their femtocells to work only in America, and even when you change locations domestically, most require you to update your address in your online profile before it can work elsewhere. There’s a GPS beacon attached to all of them, which works as the ball-and-chain for travelers. The ultimate femtocell would be the one that you could take anywhere, and plug into any Internet connection, in order to have five bars of local cell service anywhere in the world. It would all but eliminate roaming fees while you were chatting in your overseas office or hotel room. But wouldn’t it be even nicer if you could take that idea, and make it mobile? That’s exactly what Ubiquisys is doing with its newest product, the Attocell. Read on for more details.This USB dongle is considered a “personal femtocell,” cramming the technology that’s usually found in a router-sized box into a single USB adapter. The setup couldn’t be simpler: plug the Attocell into a laptop that has an Internet connection (for example, this would work through a laptop out in a French coffee shop with Wi-Fi freely available), and then use the connection it creates to make a phone call via the web. It’s sort of like Skype, except you’re using your actual phone number, which is far more convenient.

The company hasn’t coughed up pricing or availability details yet, but should do so next month with a formal unveiling at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. We’re told that a number of carrier talks are already in progress, but we have to worry about what fees (if any) will be tacked on. The ultimate goal would be to buy this adapter and then use it without limits for free, but it’s unclear if the carriers involved would let that fly. If they charge too much, it will end up simpler to just make a call while roaming, but we’re crossing our fingers that it won’t go down like that. This could very well be the answer to a lot of prayers from those who travel overseas routinely and have to swallow massive roaming bills each time they return.

[Via Engadget]

Expedia drops telephone booking fees

There is a bit of a war going on between the various large online travel sites. They are battling each other to see who can provide the best service, with the lowest fees. Of course, this war really only has one winner – consumers.

This morning, Expedia announced the removal of all telephone booking fees for trips booked through their service. This may not sound like a very important change, but when you consider that the airlines charge as much as $25 per person, per telephone booking, you’ll quickly realize that being able to book that same ticket through Expedia without any fees could come in quite handy.

The company eliminated online air booking fees and change fees and cancel fees on all hotel and car rental reservations in May 2009. Cruise change and cancel fees were also eliminated in May 2009 and cruise booking fees were eliminated in October 2009.

It is an odd world when big travel firms like Expedia are able to provide a better service than the airlines themselves, but as I said – we consumers are the real winners here.

Being able to book a flight over the phone is perfect for people who hate making online reservations, or if you need an last minute flight reservation and don’t want to deal with the hassle of finding a computer with Internet access.

The $10 airline peak “surcharge” is here to stay

Last week, we reported on a new money making scheme concocted by the airlines. In a nutshell, they are raising fares by $10 on the busiest days of the year. The scheme started as a fee from one airline on three days around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then other airlines followed, turning it into an industry wide scam scheme.

Well, apparently the bean counters at the various airlines loved it – because they have expanded it to a whole bunch of other dates.

Farecompare.com has the dates listed as:

  • November 29 – November 30, 2009
  • December 19, 2009
  • December 26 – December 27, 2009
  • January 2 – January 3, 2010
  • March 14, 2010
  • March 20 – March 21, 2010
  • March 28, 2010
  • April 11, 2010
  • May 28, 2010

That’s right – when you need the airlines the most, they’ll make the most money off you. Some airlines were smart, and hid the $10 surcharge in their fares (American Airlines is a good example of this), others simply tack it on top of the other fees and surcharges added to your ticket.When the first wave of “peak surcharges” was added, you could opt for a different airline, but as is often the case in the airline world, most airlines have copied American Airlines, so it’s going to be one of those times when the airlines win. In other words – get used to these new fee generating methods.




(Via Walletpop)

People like to fly during the holidays – and the airlines want to exploit that

The airfare specialists over at Farecompare.com came across something rather unsettling a couple of days ago. When looking at the fares airlines loaded into the various booking systems, they noticed that American Airlines started adding a $10 fee applied to all flights on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 29) and Jan. 2 and 3.

Shortly after that, United Airlines pulled the same stunt, followed by Delta Airlines. Essentially, this “Miscellaneous surcharge” is a way for the airlines to make a huge amount of money on the days people need them the most.

It may not be as pathetic as the new British Airways seat selection fee we wrote about, but it comes pretty damn close.

These holiday tickets are historically the most expensive of the season, but making all that extra cash isn’t enough for the airlines. The only way to stay away from this bogus surcharge is to avoid the three days mentioned above, or to pick an airline that has not (yet) chosen to climb on board the silly surcharge bandwagon.

Increased passenger ticket fee may help pay for airport expansions

Ever paid attention to the breakdown of the fees tacked on to your ticket? In addition to the $2.50 9/11 security fee, and a government tax of about $4, you also pay a passenger facility charge (PFC) of $4.50.

This PFC is how the government pays for all the horribly outdated airports in the country. That is right – proceeds from selling $9 airport sandwiches are not enough to maintain and expand airport facilities. And neither is the current PFC – which is why a proposal has been made to raise the PFC from $4.50 to $7.

I’m guessing the government saw how the airlines were raking in the cash from luggage fees, and decided they wanted a piece of the action.

The increase should bring in billions of additional Dollars – an airport like Chicago O’Hare sees 70 million passengers a year, multiply that by $7, and you have a nice chunk of change. Then again, with an upcoming $5.5 Billion expansion plan scheduled for O’Hare, they need all the help they can get.

Thankfully, this $2.50 increase is actually very modest – international airports charge far, far more for the luxury of landing at their airport. Amsterdam charges a $90 “noise isolation charge and passenger service charge”, Glasgow airport charges $145 for the UK PSC. But the real winner here is London Heathrow, with a $155 PSC.

When you fly to these airports in a premium cabin, the fees can be as high as $300. So really, $2.50 seems like a pretty good deal if you ask me (these charges are all averages – some flights can be lower, some higher).

The proposal has been approved by the house, and is currently pending before the U.S. Senate, but chances are, it will become reality very soon.%Gallery-28218%