April 3, 2014 | By Tammy Parker

5BARz International’s plug-and-play signal booster is getting its own boost, thanks to a volume manufacturing deal the company signed with Flextronics.

The companies announced that Flextronics will be 5Barz’ supply chain solutions and manufacturing partner for its Network Extender device, which delivers improved cellular signals for voice, data and video reception cellular devices.

5Barz’s Network Extender, announced in February at the Mobile World Congress trade show, measures 5.5″ x 3.9″ x 1.6″ and weighs 10.5 ounces.

The device combines the send and receive antenna into a single form factor, which 5Barz CEO Daniel Bland said is unique for carrier-grade signal boosters. The company has a patent for a process that cancels out parasitic feedback between the antennas, enabling the device to achieve 70 db of system gain, he added.

The San Diego-based vendor hopes to gain business from mobile operators that are seeking ways to slash their individual customer churn rate, which averages about 3 percent across the industry. As mobile communications device usage increasingly shifts indoors, operators are seeking ways to improve their in-building coverage and keep their customers happy.

Bland contends that most signal boosters are not carrier grade. Boosters offered by Nextivity do fit carrier-grade requirements, he said, but are also quite expensive.

Another proposed solution for residential cellular coverage is femtocells, which have largely failed to meet expectations for widespread adoption. Femtocell issues range from service issues as well as their reliance upon residential broadband backhaul, such as cable or DSL, which is often provided by a third party such as a telco or cable operator with which the mobile operator has no relationship.

Mobile network engineers “have had femtocells jammed down their throats for the last five to six years, and they have just not been adopted,” Bland said.

He said 5Barz Network Extender will only cost mobile operators $200 per unit, which is inexpensive enough to enable carriers to distribute the device to customers for free. That differs from the femtocell model, whereby carriers have often tried to generate profits by selling femtocells to their subscriber base.

Bland contends the low price of its signal booster provides the device with wide adoption potential, possibly changing the way network infrastructure is built out. “This is a sea change of huge proportions if we’re right,” he added.

The Network Extender can be set up to amplify only a specific carrier’s signals and can be remotely managed from an operator’s network operations center (NOC). “This really is a network infrastructure device,” he said.

5Barz is slated to begin delivering test devices this month to a major telco in Latin America. Those devices support only 2G and 3G, per that customer’s requirements.

“We’re in negotiations now with several major telcos that we will be signing cooperation agreements with,” Bland said. “We’ll have LTE in the second quarter,” he added.

In February 2013 the FCC approved new rules for cell phone boosters, giving booster makers a major win after years of acrimonious debate over the issue. Bland said that while 5Barz has had positive responses from U.S. telco executives, the company expects the Network Extender’s initial sales momentum will come from Latin America.

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