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Summary:

As an iPhone user held hostage in AT&T’s network by the exclusivity agreement with Apple, the arrival of the AT&T 3G MicroCell felt like being rescued. Four weeks later, I now realize only Verizon can do that, but my updated assessment of the 3G MicroCell is […]

As an iPhone user held hostage in AT&T’s network by the exclusivity agreement with Apple, the arrival of the AT&T 3G MicroCell felt like being rescued. Four weeks later, I now realize only Verizon can do that, but my updated assessment of the 3G MicroCell is still positive, mostly.

microcell_cal

During the first three weeks of operation, the MicroCell was down form some period of time on nine separate days. Periods of outage lasted from 15 minutes to several hours, but were usually less than an hour. There was no discernible pattern, and for every instance but one the fix was: unplug, wait, plug back in.

The single outlier was a little more insidious. While my iPhone reported “five bars,” attempting to make a call would result in immediate failure. That episode required deactivating the MicroCell with AT&T, reinstalling it as if it were new equipment, and about three Zantac.

If this makes the MicroCell sound like a product not ready for sale to the general public, it’s not. Those paying $150 for a MicroCell in eligible cities are participating in a “public trial.” If one didn’t know they were a beta tester, the uncharacteristically helpful technical support gives it away.

Diagnosing my problem, it was suggested that updates to the firmware by AT&T may have been responsible. Of course, the MicroCell is supposed to reboot itself when the firmware is updated, but even a tech support placebo can make you feel better. It was also suggested that I try priority mode configuration, and that appears to actually have worked.

3gmicrocell_update_configuration

By switching the connection order of the MicroCell and wireless router, the MicroCell supposedly reserves sufficient bandwidth for voice and data at all times. Why it needs to carve out a 3G slice of bandwidth on a Wi-Fi network remains a mystery, but I’m not complaining. The outages stopped after changing the device setup. My initial fears concerning bandwidth throttling proved unrealized, or maybe a firmware update solved that, too. Either way, speed tests with and without the MicroCell connected have the same results.

While it appears that my hardware issues have been resolved, a longer look at call performance is not as positive as my initial assessment. To the MicroCell’s credit, it has yet to drop a call. Further, call quality to and from individuals remains generally very good, but, strangely, there are problems calling some businesses.

Maybe my MicroCell hates talking with people in India, but calls to and from toll-free numbers or businesses are often choppy. My observation is that phone numbers that aren’t point-to-point, one number to one number, are far more likely to break up. It may be anthropomorphic on my part, but it’s like the MicroCell hates being put on hold and transferred, but then who doesn’t?

Finally, I continue to be disappointed with the range of the device. AT&T says 5,000 square feet, but I say 50 squared, or about 50 feet in a straight line. That’s very close to being unacceptable for me, but being as Apple is still playing coy with Verizon, or vice versa, my options are limited. If yours are too, the AT&T 3G MicroCell remains a relatively pleasant cell on AT&T’s prison network.

  1. A circle with a 50 foot radius covers over 7,800 square feet. Sounds like in your testing they are doing better than their promise. http://www.google.com/search?q=pi+*+50^2

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    1. I’m being charitable. While it works at that distance, or even a little farther, I get the best reception in rooms adjacent to the MicroCell’s location. Of course, that’s my range, and range seems to be very subjective with this device.

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  2. indeed, 5000 ft^2 is a circle with a radius of about 40 ft.

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  3. I believe the device on the left-side of the graphic is a “router” not a “modem”? Thanks for the update, though disappointed.

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  4. Hi,

    I’m living outside the USA.
    My question is, can the microcell works with every ISP, or do you need DSL(?) from AT&T.
    I don’t want to buy one, because I know they only works with AT&T.

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    1. @iGuido85:
      The AT&T Microcell is specific to the AT&T networks. And it uses GPS to confirm it’s location. It will not work outside of its intended area.
      –mike

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  5. Have you tried comparing call quality to India on a regular phone line?

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  6. I wonder if AT&T has microcells setup in each of their store locations. If not, this may be a wise decision to increase AT&T’s coverage area.

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  7. Kenneth Stevens Thursday, November 12, 2009

    You could always get a cheap APS UPS to power your Microcell during power outages.

    Ken

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  8. As a surgeon frequently on call, the calling network is mission critical and AT&T doesn’t work in my home. I am looking to switch to verizon while using my iPhone as an iPod. Maybe I’ll get a Droid.

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  9. I live in south central Arkansas and get very weak service with no 3G.
    When will the microcell be avaible? Been reading about it for awhile
    now and still have the same question.
    Joe

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  10. Well guys, the iphone 3Gs can now be found unlocked. Legally unlocked. Check out http://bit.ly/8btvZt and see for yourself!

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  11. Welcome to AT&T, enjoy your Iphone. Oh! By the way, if you don’t get service you can pay another $150 and it will work most of the time. This would be a good add for Verizon.

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  12. Why does it need two connections? Will it work with just a connection to the router?

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  13. 3G Microcell (AT&T) causes your iPhone location capabilities to be non-functional. With the Microcell, forget using google maps, and and any other app that relies on gps. This info is from customer service (AT&T). They know it – but why advertise it. As soon as I unplugged the microcell, my gps came back. I was sure I was not 220 miles from my actual location.

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  14. I got rid of AT&T and switched to Verizon. Haven’t dropped calls, and even got a microcell network extender for the house (wasn’t avail on AT&T outside of a few small towns two months ago). iPhone is now an excellent PDA and game console, and plays movies while I work out.

    Can’t wait for iPhone to show up on Verizon.

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  15. I live in Smithfield, VA, (zip 23430) which is about 3 hours drive from Raliegh, NC, and coverage is horrible. We don’t even get the Edge network most of the time. I have lived with this since I switched to the iPhone 2.5 years ago. As soon as Verizon gets the iPhone, I’m done with AT&T – worst provider for this region ever.

    I was told we were going to be able to purchase the Micro Cell in January 2010. However, it is not available. This is the response I received:
    ============================================
    Thank you for contacting AT&T on the status of MicroCell availability in your area. I’m truly sorry that the previous response did not actually address your question. My name is Charles Haynes, and I’m happy to answer this for you.

    There is no available information on projected dates for availability; however you can check current availability at any time here:

    http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/why/3gmicrocell/

    Click the “Availability” tab above the presentation window and enter your ZIP code.

    I sincerely apologize for the initial response.
    =======================================

    I was given the following link to take a survey aabout the AT&T Customer Service experience:

    http://www.wireless.att.com/supportsurvey/epoll/Booth.do?controller=com.jcorporate.epoll.controller.Booth&Format=tiny&CategoryId=2&PollId=16&state=promptVote&id=okCG8566***12686436***

    And guess what? It didn’t work! It came back and said “Maintenance in Progress. AT&T is continually working to improve our internet site for our customers. As part of this ongoing effort, we are currently doing maintenance. We apologize for this inconvenience and ask that you please try back later”.

    So, my AT&T phone doesn’t work in my house, doesn’t work in my neighborhood, and even the AT&T website isn’t working!

    Did I mention how much I hate AT&T?

    Yes, I could have picked a different provider, but as everyone knows, I then wouldn’t have the most awesome phone on the planet. Too bad I’m stuck with AT&T (for now).

    I got my wife to switch from T-Mobile when the 3GS came out, so we have 2 plans with AT&T that average about $180/month. One would expect more for this from AT&T in terms of adequate coverage. I’m not even talking about 3G coverage – like I mentioned, we don’t even get the Edge network. In spite of this, we are continuing to grow our small business, and as we add new employees, the entire team will switch to Verizon hopefully sometime this year.

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    1. Why would you buy a phone or service that doesn’t work in the areas that you use it??? If the provider is so bad, why didn’t you take advantage of the 30-day return? It just seems stupid now that you are complaining about it.

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      1. For many reasons – 1, when I bought the original version of the iPhone, there was nothing else like it for reading email and all of the other things it did! NOTHING compared to it (have you ever tried reading email on a 2007 Blackberry Pearl?). And, AT&T has been promising all of these upgrades, and that they covered “97%” of all Americans”, etc., etc. AT&T has seen their subscribership explode due to the monopoly they have, and are not investing in their infrastructure at the same pace. Verizon’s “There’s a map for that” commercials are accurate, which is why they have been allowed to run them.

        What seems stupid to me is that people aren’t complaining more about the fact that we in the US, where the iPhone was invented, are locked into a sole provider. Even our border countries Mexico and Canada can now buy an unlocked iPhone!

        And do you think I am the only one with bad reception? Have you not been listening to the problems around the country?

        What seems stupid to me is there isn’t enough of an outcry yet to find a problem with AT&T having such a monopoly in the US.

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  16. I left AT&T but kept my iPhone. Got a Verizon HTC Touch Pro2, a very nice piece of hardware crippled by Windows Mobile with the exception of:

    1. microcell in my house letting me get voice access to every nook and cranny of the house without dropping call

    2. WalkingHotSpot -a 30 dollar app that turns a win-mo cell phone into a wifi hotspot -data charges apply. My golf gps programs work on iPhone and I can make calls on Skype on iPhone. Being WinMo -it took a lot of fiddling to get the app onto the phone.

    This setup works for me for now, but will get the Verizon iPhone as soon as it becomes available.

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    1. every nook huh? I had verizon for 7 years. 6-11 hours a day on the phone for business and I dropped two calls: one on top of a mountain hiking, the other under a large metal industrial building, but only in the basement bathroom due to all the plumbing.

      With ATT: I drop a call each hour or two. that’s 10,000% worse service. Seems like some techno weenie sold the world on this new, and therefore superior technology: GSM. Or are we seeing a monopoly left amok by complacent drones who care only that ATT had the Goop Zoop phone a week earlier and are tied to a two year contract. Contracts…

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  17. ATT must go away. How do they: one; stay in business and two; get chosen by apple? Apple may have and should have begged Verizon. They need to start asking me in advance on this and the choice of hard drives in their machines. Toshiba?? please.

    now that i moved from the city, I have the unpleasant task of trying a google android phone. I am not liking it… only to find out apple will come out with it the day after I pay and get all setup… due to secrecy. They may save millions by telling us when Verizon is in play. We will wait then. Any other service (non CDMA) is like two cups and a string. Att is dial a prayer… except prayer actually seems to work…(according to Harvard medical’s triple blind study)

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  18. Using the HTC Touch Pro2 as a mobile wifi hotspot allows full functionality to the iPhone without the trouble of AT&T. While being driven 2 hours to clinic, I was able to surf with iPhone and my Mac on 3G. When I had AT&T, there would be zero bars -ZIP. Got 3 bars of 3G in Ottumwa. Can’t wait for Verizon iPhone.

    The talking while surfing stuff that AT&T touts works only for people who are talking on bluetooth or speaker while browsing -in truth its fairly cumbersome.

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  19. I don’t own a iPhone just the regular at&t piece of crap and just want to get service where I live,they tell me I have good coverage and they even update the phone,still no bars.Anyone have any suggestion,or tweaks,and Verizon isn’t one tried it.

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  20. [...] succeeds, but it’s frustrating, and it happens on both my iPhone and my wife’s iPhone. After six months of being a beta tester, replacing one problematic MicroCell, troubleshooting various problems with tech support and [...]

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  21. AT$T selling you a microsell to fix AT$T service you already pay for??????

    the fact your even testing this thing and giving a opinion makes you stupid..

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  22. I don’t think verizon is good at all but this microcell has been a godsend for me and my family, I live in rural ky and all other providers except at&t have more trouble than they are worth. we have been with at&t for over 5 years now and while my brother in law has changed to everything but at&t during that time no one can ever get ahold of him and he complains of never having signal…

    So my point is the quality of the company depends on where you are either living or working, and like my family we have service everywhere except at home, which was fixed with the 3g microcell….

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  23. According to the Microcell site, it requires a signal to be able to work. However, I did not see any mention of what TYPE of AT&T signal – 3G only, or will an “Edge” signal work? All we get is the crappy Edge network here (and even that is iffy – so much for “97% of all Americans”), the nearest 3G signal is at least 10 miles away.

    Does anyone know if it works with Edge?

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  24. I finally conquered the task of activating the Microcell for my office. I had sufficient problems getting the device to work, because all wiring connections labeled in the set-up/ user manual would not comply with our network server. I had to connect the Microcell to the modem port in my PC similar to option B in the manual. Instead of running our gray Category 5 Ethernet from the wall into the black port labeled “Computer” and the yellow Ethernet cable into the back of my PC, I had to run the yellow Ethernet cable from yellow “Ethernet” port on the Microcell to the port in the wall, and the gray Category 5 cable from the port labeled “Computer” to the back of my PC. AT&t states that the activation may take up to an hour via online (took 2 hours for my account) and that the Microcell should start working within 90 minutes. My Microcell would first light-up the “power” icon and the “computer” icon which shows data transfer. If you have it connected properly the “Ethernet” icon should stop blinking rapidly and become solid after about a minute. Between 5-10 minutes after the “Ethernet” icon becomes solid, the “GPS” icon and “3G” icon will begin blinking back and forth. My Microcell rebooted (all icons turn off except “power” icon for the device to restart) itself multiple times before it worked. I talked to an array of At&T technicians (many of them I found to know more about the device than they did) to see if maybe I needed to contact my IT Rep for firewall blocking issues. It took my Microcell hours to begin fully functioning. Once the Microcell is up and running the 5 bars of service on the Iphones is phenomenal. I hope this comment helps any stranded Microcell activators.

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  25. Bought the micro cell against my better judgement, why pay extra to get good service. I now get the 5 bars even with the death grip on my iphone 4. I have a huge complaint though, when talking on the phone I get the delay action which causes you to talk over the other person. Very annoying and will have to return it if this continues.

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  26. AT&T sucks! Coverage in Smithfield VA is horrible, and the 250 MB iPad coverage for $15 doesn’t last just reading basic RSS feeds.
    They are selectively giving out Microcells, and by not doing that for everyone, alienate those who have to pay for them. If you haven’t heard of that, visit; http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/10/atandt-handing-out-free-3g-microcells-to-loyal-customers/

    Anyhow, for those who have a working Microcell, do any of you only get an Edge signal? There is no 3G coverage where we live, and we barely get an Edge signal, and nothing inside the house – period. I’m wondering if the Microcell will even work in that environment.

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  27. Steve the micro cell will work if you have a Internet connection.

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  28. Ken,

    Thanks. I thought somewhere I had read that in order for it to work, you had to be able to place it where it would be within site of an AT&T signal? Is that incorrect? An internet connection is all that is required?

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  29. No just the Internet. Somewhere it said to put it close to a window but that is just for GPS positioning so it can tell the location of the device. I do not have mine close to a window.

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  30. Ken,

    Thanks for the insight.

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  31. Charles, thank you for your post regarding the Microcell from last fall! My husband and I live in a remote area of SW Missouri and had just purchased the M-cell from ATT&T a couple days ago. After severeal attempts to get activated by relocating the cell and rebooting as well as a couple of phone calls to the techies, we were starting to think it just wasn’t going to work. I started looking around at various blogs and ran across yours with your most helpful diagram and witty commentary! We changed our wiring using your priority mode configuration and within 10 min. we had 5 bars and were able to make and accept calls and text messages from our home. I just wanted to say “thanks” for your information and I needed to respond to your post because you seem to keep perspective and remain fairly non-judgmental. My advice to those who are irritated is to try the re-configuration and if ATT&T doesn’t work for you, move on….its all about choices….thanks again!

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    1. “My advice to those who are irritated is to try the re-configuration and if ATT&T doesn’t work for you, move on….its all about choices”

      Actually, it’s NOT. AT&T has a monopoly on the iPhone here in the US. It is about choices just about everywhere else in the world. I switched to AT&T for the iPhone with the 1st generation, and the network has not improved in my area – it is still the “edge” network. And I’m not alone – look at how many people have discussed how bad AT&T’s network is. However, I don’t have a choice if I want to keep the iPhone.

      I will switch to Verizon when it happens, which I expect will occur sometime between November 2010 and February 2011. I don’t care if I have to pay a cancellation fee. And, I will switch everyone else within our company who are using it as well – I am that dissatisfied with AT&T as a provider.

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  32. I laugh that you think Verizon will be any better then AT&T and I can tell you that they are no better or worse then any other of the big 3 companies, each has thier down falls it’s just which ones are you willing to live with……I’ve had both if not all three verizon was kicked to the curb over 7 years ago, customer survice sucks and I will not go back, I admit they have some neat phones but do not care for customer support or being tied to a cdma phone for two years.

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