A Cure for Urban AT&T Mobile Users: The 3G MicroCell

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: AT&T 3G MicroCell
Price: $149.99
Rating: Strong Recommend*

Do you live in a major city and struggle to get AT&T reception in your own home? We had this problem and after the 8676785th (possibly a slight exaggeration) dropped call we decided it was time to look at what could be done to improve the reception in our apartment. Signal repeaters did not fix the problems and changing carriers was not a viable solution (GSM iPhones we frequently use abroad). The only option that remained outside of moving, was to try the solution offered by AT&T customer service, the MicroCell.

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After yet another phone call with AT&T Customer Care, the customer service rep suggested we try the MicroCell as a possible solution for our reception woes. The MicroCell works by acting like a mini cell tower in your home, and connects to your existing broadband Internet service. Since it is not possible to buy a MicroCell over the phone, we headed into our local AT&T store. While at the store we shared our unhappiness over the reception in our apartment with a very helpful associate who was able to, due to the records of our copious reception complaint calls, provide us with a MicroCell free of charge.

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Setup:
Setup was incredibly easy. We took the device out of the box and followed the instructions (plug it in & power it on), and went online to activate the device. During the activation process you select which AT&T numbers will be using the device, so there is no fear of neighbors piggybacking onto your MicroCell. It is also during activation that you can select, if you choose, a MicroCell calling plan. We decided against this since we were happy with our current mobile plans. Once the device was activated we received a text message on our phones letting us know it was ready to be used.

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Design:
The MicroCell surprised us with how large, comparatively speaking, it is. Compared to our Airport Extreme, Time Capsule, and tiny cable modem, the MicroCell towers over them all and did require some re-arranging of our network equipment in order to make it fit on the desk. The device is primarily shiny white and when it is against our white walls it does not look terribly obtrusive despite its size. We do wish the device was a bit smaller so that we would have an easier time finding a good home for it in our 600 square foot apartment.

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Usage:
We would love to say that the MicroCell was the end to all our reception problems in the apartment, but sadly this has not been the case. We do think that part of the reception woes are due to our handsets since one of our iPhones has had zero problems maintaining the connection to the MicroCell and the other has had intermittent connection issues when on the other side of the apartment (MicroCell range is 5,000 square feet). Overall, we have noticed significantly less dropped calls and no issues when the phones have switched from MicroCell to cellular. Calls made while on the MicroCell are clearer and we don't have the "deadzone drama" that we used to have during which we roam around the apartment tilting our heads in different ways trying to hold onto a call. Thanks to the big increase in call quality we wish we could carry the MicroCell around with us everywhere in order to combat the poor reception we often find in this busy metropolis.

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Pros:
- easy to set up
- improved reception in the home
- calls can be moved to the cellular network when you leave the premises
- silent
- new calling plan options

Cons:
- fairly large compared to other network appliances

The Bottom Line (& Who Should Buy):
If your home or business is frequently plagued with AT&T reception issues you really should consider a MicroCell. Yes, it is annoying to have to "need" this device and also to have to pay for it, but it does do the job it was created for pretty well. If you have a history of poor service and making numerous calls into AT&T Customer Care to document this, you might be able to finagle a MicroCell for free. The other option that brings the cost of the device down significantly are the different promotions AT&T often runs in which you receive a $100 rebate if you sign up for a MicroCell calling plan. We have been impressed by the increase in reception that we have received from this device and highly recommend it to anyone with reception issues.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend*
Recommend
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf.

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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Joelle loves technology and making things and is in an almost perpetual state of problem solving. She's quite fond of airplanes and coffee and is pretty sure she will eventually read all of the books in her library.

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