Fix your Crummy AT&T Reception: $150

If you’ve got a speedy, reliable internet connection at work or home, you have a real shot at fixing your lousy AT&T network reception. We’re talking a full five bars and a rock solid connection whenever you’re near your home or office.

But it comes with a price, specifically $150.

For the past week I’ve been using an AT&T “Microcell” (a.k.a. a “femtocell“) hooked to my home network. It’s a small box that looks a bit like a router and acts like as own personal cell tower. Basically, whenever you’re within 40 feet of it, it’ll scoop up all your calls and route them over your internet connection instead of AT&T’s network.

Setup wise, it was pretty straightforward: just bring the box home from the store, hook its internet connection into your router, and turn it on. There’s a web page you go to to register the cell phones that are allowed to use it (up to ten numbers), and then you just wait a bit for it to be activated on AT&T’s network. Once that happens, your iPhone or other AT&T device will show “AT&T M-Cell” for the currently connected network, and you’re good to go.

The experience so far is just as promised, with nary a dropped call or glitchy connection since it was activated. In short, it just works.

The rub comes on the price itself: you’re basically shelling out $150 to fix a network which AT&T really ought to have fixed themselves. Although some rebate schemes are available if you sign up for AT&T DSL, I was happy with my present (cable) internet connection, so I got tagged for the full amount. Plus, you’re really doing AT&T a favor by shipping all your cell traffic off of their network, freeing up bandwidth. It’d be nice if we at least got a rebate or a nice card in the mail to thank us.

Another point of confusion is that AT&T offers the MicroCell both as a standalone, and in conjunction with an “unlimited calling” plan for another $19.99 a month which lets folks burn unlimited minutes while connected to the MicroCell. In theory, this is useful for people on minimal calling plans who nevertheless make a lot of calls from home–but paying a monthly charge to get the unlimited ability to push data over my own network connection would be too much to contemplate. Besides, it’s a moot issue thanks for the mandatory unlimited calling plan that came with my iPhone.

So what’s the bottom line? I bought it, and I’m happy to have had the chance to do so.

If you’re in the same sort of  “1-bar/no-bars” network location I live in, this is an easy, effective way to take a big point of pain out of your personal communications life. I’m obviously not in love with having had to drop the additional cash in order to fix things, but it’s one of those choices which may be a little unpleasant, but is a lot better than the alternatives of either giving up my iPhone or living with a third of my calls dropping mid-conversation.

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