For many iPhone users held hostage by AT&T’s (s att) second-rate 3G network, the announcement that a nationwide rollout of the AT&T 3G MicroCell will begin in April sounds like a long-awaited promise of coverage rescue finally coming true.
Certainly that’s what I thought when I started using the MicroCell last year, but six months later I haven’t found cellular freedom at home so much as a better jail cell for me and my iPhone.
Regarding the announcement, AT&T says only that the nationwide launch will begin in mid-April, with “new markets activating in cities across the continental U.S. for the next several months.” To date, that’s mostly been regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, with San Diego and Las Vegas being recently added.
However, browsing the MicroCell support forum, posts are appearing declaring MicroCell availability in Arizona, New Mexico and New York—not New York City. Expect the MicroCell to be available in most U.S. cities by the end of 2010. Now that the “when” has been answered, the question is whether there is any value for the iPhone user with poor coverage at home.
How’s that image for an answer. Instafail. Despite the “five bar” coverage in my house, I will intermittently and without any discernible pattern have calls fail immediately after initiating them. A second attempt always 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 discovering solutions on my own, I still have problems.
Other problems include what I would describe as passive-aggressive xenophobia on the part of my MicroCell towards people in call centers, presumably on other continents. Calls to call centers represent the most frequent of infrequent in-call drops. However, I also drop calls if I let the kitchen get between me and the MicroCell, even if the distance is less than 20 feet. Even keeping the kitchen out of the way, the range of the MicroCell could be better. In two different houses, I find 50 feet and a wall or two is the upward range limit.
Should your MicroCell itself drop out—and it will—it’s pretty easy to get running again. Disconnecting power and reconnecting will almost always have it back online within 15 minutes. Should that not work, it will be necessary to re-register the MicroCell on AT&T’s website, then reconnect it with your network. It’s a tedious and time-consuming process, but I haven’t had to do that since November, so perhaps that’s one problem fixed.
What will these problems cost you? The MicroCell sells for $149.99, though qualified purchasers can get rebates of up to $100, making the cost of network coverage that AT&T should already be providing only $50. To get the rebate, you have to sign up for a MicroCell calling plan at $19.99 per month. If you don’t get a MicroCell calling plan, calls will be deducted from you cell plan minutes. Seriously, is this a great deal for AT&T or what? Unburdening their network woes on the backs of broadband providers and getting AT&T cell phone users to pay for it—brilliant!
So, should you get a MicroCell? That’s not really the question. Rather, the question is can you replace your POTS or VoIP landline with a MicroCell and iPhone? My experience is that you cannot. While you can count on the AT&T 3G MicroCell to extend “five bar” coverage to your home, the bars are still a prison, and AT&T remains the iPhone’s jailer. Those of us desiring to cut our landlines don’t need an AT&T 3G MicroCell, we need a Verizon (s vz) iPhone.
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