AT&T starts selling 'cell tower in a suitcase'

For the first time, AT&T is selling small, portable cellular antennas that will allow corporate and government customers to provide their own wireless coverage in remote or disaster-struck areas.

Usually, cellphone companies have to restore service after disasters like hurricanes by sending in their own trucks that act like mobile cell towers. But AT&T's new product would let first responders such as police and emergency workers immediately control where they have coverage.

One of AT&T's options is a unit that packs into a suitcase, with a satellite dish carried separately. The unit requires outside power, such as a generator, to work.

The Remote Mobility Zone can handle 14 simultaneous calls, and data at less-than-broadband speeds. Coverage extends up to half a mile from the unit. The "portable cell tower" can also be mounted in a car or truck.

The Remote Mobility Zone's satellite dish makes it independent of broadband service. AT&T also sells smartphones that can talk directly to satellites. The Remote Mobility Zone would be able to be used with any AT&T phone.

The cost of the units will range from $15,000 to $45,000, AT&T said Monday, plus some monthly fees.

Like other carriers, AT&T also sells "femtocells," even smaller cellular antennas that users can place indoors. Connected to broadband service, they provide added inside a home.

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