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AT&T MicroCell brings more bars, but at a cost

Sadly, I'm one of the poor souls who has close to zero cell coverage in my house. It's partly the way my home is constructed, and partly because the city fathers in the area I live in are going real slow about approving new cell towers.

The result is that I usually have one bar displayed on my iPhone, but as soon as I try to make a call, that bar disappears and I wind up in cell phone hell.

AT&T has an answer, but it is a bit pricey. It's called the AT&T 3G MicroCell. It's not a cellphone repeater, but instead a device that plugs into your router and then gets you voice and data just as if you have a cell tower in your house. It gives me five bars anywhere in the house and yard, which pretty much completely solves my reception issues. [It may not work for you; TJ points out that AT&T doesn't support the MicroCell over satellite connections. –Ed.]

We had a runthrough of the MicroCell when guest blogger Murphy Mac put it through its paces in 2009; my take on the device follows here. Read on!


The Microcell's improved reception comes at a cost, however. The device itself is US$150, and it isn't available everywhere yet, but AT&T is rolling out the service rapidly. I'm not wild about having to pay AT&T extra money to get good cellphone reception, but I have no other choice for the foreseeable future.

The cell minutes you use come out of your regular allotment of air-time, and for me, that works out fine because I am always under my limit. If you want unlimited calling, that's $20 a month on top of your regular cellphone charges. If you are an AT&T customer with an AT&T land-line and DSL already, you can get the unlimited talk time for free. If you have an AT&T land-line or DSL from AT&T, unlimited calling is $10 a month.

How does it all get installed? It's a do it yourself project, and dead easy. You plug the device into your router, go to a special AT&T web page, and enter the device's serial number. Optionally, the device can be placed between the router and the modem, giving MicroCell traffic priority handling over other Internet connectivity. If you don't have a router, the MicroCell can be plugged directly into your broadband modem and your computer can be connected to the MicroCell. A built-in GPS sends your location to AT&T, and usually within an hour all the 'ready' lights come on and you're good to go. When you look at your cellphone, you won't see the usual AT&T legend next to signal strength. It will say AT&T M-Cell.

Neighbors can't use your bandwidth, so everything is very secure. You can give AT&T up to nine additional cellphone numbers that are allowed access, so when friends and family come over they can get the benefit of the pristine reception.

Up to four people can be using your system at the same time, either voice or data. In my experience, setup was a no-surprise experience. I'd like to see this device selling for less, but if I want to use my iPhone at home, this is the only reliable solution. (For the record, I used to be on Verizon, and my home signal was no better.)

If you're interested, be sure to check availability in your area at this page. I had given AT&T my email to alert me when the service came to my area, but I never received any email and the service was available for more than a month.

If you're suffering with bad AT&T reception, this solution works, but you need to have broadband at home, and live in an area where AT&T offers the service.

I'm happy with everything but the price. If you're interested in the MicroCell as a solution and think it's worth the extra cost, here's an FAQ with more info to check out.

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