For iPhone users like myself chained to the shoddy service of AT&T (s att) by Apple’s (s aapl) seemingly interminable exclusivity contract with the carrier, hope for better reception springs eternal, at least if you live in North Carolina.
The AT&T 3G MicroCell that looks more like a video game console is actually a tiny cellular base station, or femtocell. For those with more bars in more places, except where they live, the 3G MicroCell will access AT&T’s network via broadband, DSL or cable.
Initially, it appears AT&T is only taking orders for parts of Charlotte, NC, the service agreement stating the “device may not function except in specific counties in the Raleigh, NC, Charlotte, NC, Columbia, SC, and Atlanta, GA metropolitan areas in a phased network roll-out.” In other words, it’s not ready for those languishing in areas that could really use a 3G MicroCell, like San Francisco or New York. No doubt, the 3G MicroCell will get there eventually, but if you want one now you need to live in the southern U.S.
If you do, and you have a 3G phone — original iPhone users need not apply — the 3G MicroCell will support up to four users simultaneously in a coverage area of up to 5,000 square feet. Of course, you need to be an AT&T wireless customer, and you’ll need to pay outrageously, but if you’re an AT&T customer you already know that.
While Sprint charges as little as $4.99 per month for its competing service and Verizon requires only a purchase of the device, AT&T users can look forward to paying as much as $20 a month to make up for the carrier’s poor coverage. That’s the price if you only have AT&T wireless. If you have AT&T wireless and DSL, it’s $10 a month. Those who have a landline, too, can use the service for free, but what’s the point if you have a landline?
Finally, you will be burning cell plan minutes using an 3G MicroCell that may not even be piggybacking on AT&T’s broadband, though there may also be unlimited call plans in association with the service. If this sounds like a lousy deal to you, it does to me too. Unfortunately, until the exclusivity contract between Apple and AT&T ends — if it ends — options aside from jailbreaking are limited.
AT&T: More Bars in More Places — for a price.