- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

Verizon Wireless has started selling a book-sized device that boosts cell-phone signals within a home for $250, making it easier for people to drop a home-phone line and rely solely on wireless.

The Verizon Wireless Network Extender needs to be connected to a broadband Internet line. Then it acts a miniature cellular tower, listening for signals from a subscriber’s cell phone. It covers up to 5,000 square feet.

Such devices are known as “femtocells.” Verizon Wireless, the country’s largest carrier, is following in the footsteps of Sprint Nextel Corp., which started selling a femtocell under the Airave brand nationwide last year.

The Airave costs $100, but Sprint charges an extra $5 per month for use. Verizon Wireless is not charging a monthly fee.

AT&T Inc. is testing femtocells in employees’ homes and plans to conduct customer trials in at least one market in the second quarter, spokesman Mark Siegel said.

The Verizon Wireless and Sprint femtocells are made by Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and relay voice and low-speed data connections. The AT&T unit will also relay fast 3G data connections.

T-Mobile USA Inc. has chosen a different technological route to expand indoor coverage. It sells Wi-Fi routers and phones that can place calls over Wi-Fi in addition to regular wireless calls.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. of New York and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain.

Off-line? Google’s Gmail will still be available Now there’s one less excuse for not dealing with your e-mail.

Google Inc. is giving people a way to manage their e-mail even when they’re off-line, marking the Internet-search leader’s latest move to unshackle its services from the Web.

The off-line feature introduced this week is aimed primarily at workers who rely on Google’s Gmail service as part of their jobs. However, anyone with a standard account can choose the option. (This can be accomplished by clicking on “settings” and then entering Google’s “labs” section.)

After the e-mail box synchronizes with a computer’s hard drive, virtually all of Gmail’s usual tools become functional off-line - except for the ability to send and receive messages. Those chores are handled the next time a computer connects to the Internet.

Google is trying to lessen its dependence on Internet advertising by selling an online package of commonly used business programs that include a souped-up version of Gmail. The off-line feature makes the e-mail program more competitive with rival Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and Outlook programs, which are widely used by corporations.

Google previously added an off-line feature to its word-processing and spreadsheet programs, as well as its Picasa service for digital photography. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company plans to take its calendar application off-line later this year.

By adding off-line capability to Gmail, Google also catches up with rival Yahoo Inc., whose larger - and also free - e-mail service has been able to work without Internet access since last July.

To take Yahoo mail off-line, users first have to download the company’s Zimbra software to their computers. The Zimbra program also can be used to work off-line on competing services, including Gmail.

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