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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Persitence pays off: AT&T 3G MicroCell boosts signal and speeds, ends dropped calls

17

February

We have four iPhones in the Gadget Guy household and they've all worked well everywhere except one place; our house. It's not because we have iPhones or because we're with AT&T, it's just a signal strength issue. We live on the edge of what cell phone people call a "fringe area" and have always had trouble with cell phones here. Neighbors on different networks have trouble too.

microcell-3g.jpgFor data connections we were fine because at home we mostly use WiFi. But voice calls were always a gamble and for me it was to the point where I was just using the land line. A land line! Can you believe it? Sitting here with a state-of-the-art mobile device in my hand and I couldn't make a reliable call. It was driving me nuts!

I had heard about a device from AT&T called a 3G MicroCell that was supposed to help in situations like this, and I also had heard AT&T was giving them away for free to keep customers happy. So I set out to get one and did, and although I technically didn't get it for free, AT&T took care of me. The good news is the Microcell is up and running and it looks like it solved the problem. More on that in a minute. First, I want to tell about what it took to get it.

It all started with a call to my local AT&T store...

Call 1 - Called AT&T store in Oldsmar. They had MicroCells in stock but said I would have to call customer care to get a voucher for a free  one.

Call 2 - Called customer care in Arkansas. The support person was helpful but not very well-informed about the MicroCell unit, so he put me on hold a bunch of times to talk to a supervisor. Eventually he told me I could get a free Microcell if I qualified, and he was transferring me to the department for that.

Transfer 1 - I ended up in an automated Apple Support call calling me Shelly. When the support person finally came on I explained the situation and he said he couldn't help but transferred me back to AT&T support.

Transfer 2 - Back to another customer support person in Arkansas. Even though I didn't say anything about leaving AT&T, she kept insisting the retention department could help me and transferred me there.

Transfer 3 - The woman who came to the phone immediately sounded tired and beaten down. Maybe I caught her at the end of her shift but I could tell right away she wasn't going to be much help. I explained my problem and she said she was sorry I was having trouble but she couldn't help me with a MicroCell. End of call.

Call 3 - Called the main AT&T support line again. The support person almost immediately said he would help me get a MicroCell and after looking at notes on my account from the previous calls, he sent me to a different retention person. Again, I did not say I wanted to leave AT&T.

Transfer 4 - This person took charge of the situation from the beginning and made things happen. He explained the free MicroCell voucher program was over but acknowledged it wasn't right for me to have so many dropped calls. In the end I paid $99 for the MicroCell with free overnight shipping. He analyzed my account and switched me to the new "mobile to any mobile" plan, saving $20 a month, and also gave me a $30-a-month credit for the next six months. So I spent $100 but will be saving $300 over the next six months, therefore the Microcell really was "free" and I end up $200 ahead. Nice.

By being persistent and polite I ended up with more than I originally asked for. All it took was time. Now let me tell you about the MicroCell.

The AT&T 3G MicroCell is designed acts like a mini cellular tower in your home. You connect it to your broadband router and it connects to AT&T's network. It's designed to support up to four simultaneous users, so it was perfect for us.

3gmicrocell_update_configuration1.jpg

Setup was simple. You first register the device using your AT&T account and a serial number. Then you just plug it into your router and power it up. It then has to register with the network and an online message said that could take as long as 90 minutes. About 15 minutes later I received a text message saying it was ready for use.

Before setting up the MicroCell I did a test using the SpeedTest.net app on my iPhone 4. To make sure the test ran only on the 3G signal I turned WiFi off. After setting up the MicroCell I ran the test again. The screen grabs below show the test results. You'll notice that when connected to the MicroCell our phones now say "M-Cell" at the top of the screen. You'll also notice I went from two bars to five bars and the ping and download speeds increased by a large margin. The upload speed really dropped, however, and that's not typical based on reports from others who have done reviews of the MicroCell. I plan to investigate this some more.

img_0318.png   img_0319.png

And now for the really good news...no dropped calls. I made several calls with my iPhone 4 today and non of them dropped. In the past, people also had complained that the voice quality was very poor when using my iPhone 4 at home. To check this, I made some test calls to our home number and left voice mail messages. On playback the messages were extremely clear. So it appears I've met my goal and fixed the problem.

If you're with AT&T and live in an area where your signal is weak, I encourage you to inquire about the MicroCell. You can find out if you're area is eligible for MicroCell use by going to this link.

[Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 12:19am]

    

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