The idea behind the AT&T 3G is so outrageous, it would irritate any normal person. Pay $150 to AT&T to buy a device that fixes gaps in their appalling bad coverage. Provide your own broadband coverage to make the device functional and then buy minutes and data gigabytes to use your device on your own broadband connection when near home. Sounds good, I'll take one. The whole thing reminds of a review I read of the very first portable Mac back in the 1980s. The reviewer summed Apple's first, very bad, effort at a portable PC: "Overweight, overpriced, undepowered. Where can I get one?".
And so it is with the AT&T 3G Microcell. In order to give my mother an iPhone for her Birthday, first, I had to fix the coverage holes in AT&T's network. AT&T claims that they cover 97% of all Americans. It seems that several times a day, I pass through the other 3%. That includes my house.
Set-up was pretty easy and my test calls seem to be pretty good. I have Comcast internet. If I were Comcast, I'd screw all the VOIP packets going to AT&T, so I'm not sure how will it will hold up. I have the 50 MB package (50 down, 5 up) so I think I should have good bandwidth even when I'm watching a movie on Zediva.com or TV on Hulu. Latency tested online seems low too.
I tested the microcell and found I had five bars throughout the house (except when I hold the iPhone "incorrectly", in which case the bars drop down to 1, though call quality seems unaffected). I also was able to use the MicroCell all the way down the street, which was handy too.
In a week, I should hear from my mother how well it works. If she likes it, I will switch her number over and consider getting one for myself. I think it's unconscionable that AT&T charges for both the device and the service when connected to your home broadband line and it seems silly that we're all busy installing microcells when WiFi is everywhere.
One more odd thing I noticed about the Microcell: you can restrict the user base. On the one hand, I like that option - you don't want just anyone mooching your broadband. On the other hand, most phones use relatively little bandwidth and I'd like the option to let anyone who's around use my Microcell - and kind of reciprocal coverage improvement model. If thousands of people buy Microcells, we could all collectively fill AT&T's coverage gaps. A kind of "crowdsourcing" for your network.
AT&T's 3G Microcell, Now Hiding Beneath my Desk. Photo jtjdt, cc
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