A few weeks ago, I saw an article on 9to5Mac about how some AT&T users were receiving emails saying they would be receiving AT&T’s new “3G MicroCell” for free. My first thought - where’s my email? I didn’t even know what it was, but it was free and being given away so I knew I wanted one.
I called AT&T and they gave me the usual speech about how this is a “limited rollout” in “isolated areas of poor 3G coverage” blah blah blah. I forgot about it. A few weeks later, I got an email from my mom. Apparently, she made a few phone calls and AT&T told her that we actually DO live in an area of “poor 3G coverage” and were eligible. They flagged our account and told her to go to the local AT&T store and they would get her set up. She went the next day and the representative handed her a 3G MicroCell… totally free of charge.
So you might be asking “What’s the catch?”. I know I was. Surprisingly, there is none. No hidden fees, no additional setup or charges to your account. I just set it up and couldn’t be happier.
What is the 3G MicroCell?
I’m not totally up on the concept but from what I understand, the MicroCell “provides voice and data service to AT&T 3G wireless phones and devices within your home or small business. The MicroCell can deliver the maximum cellular signal strength to you - it’s like having your own mini cell tower in your home or office.”
How Does It Work?
Basically, you connect the MicroCell to your existing broadband network. There are a few different ways to do this, the simplest being to connect it to a spare ethernet port on the back of your wireless router or modem. If that doesn’t work for you, you can connect it directly to your computer. (There is even two ways to do this - one giving bandwidth to the MicroCell as a priority or the other way around). Once connected (and activated) the MicroCell is literally a mini cell tower. Your phone will connect to it as it would any local cell tower and provide you with voice and data service. When you leave the range of it, it’ll connect you to the nearest tower like usual. When you return to its range, you’ll be swapped back on to it. The device even has a GPS unit within it to provide E911 information.
The first step was activating the device. I went on to the AT&T website and put in the serial number. It pulled up my account information and explained that the device would only work with phones listed on the account. Since everyone that lives in my house is on the same wireless plan, they all showed up. Even my grandparents who share the account (but live elsewhere) are eligible to use it when they come over. (I’m going to go ahead and say my grandfather will have NO idea what the difference is, and I know I won’t explain it!). Once the activation was done, it told me that it could take up to 90 minutes for the MicroCell to start working. I plugged it in according to the instructions and the lights started flashing on the device. Less than 15 minutes later, it was up and running.
My phone immediately recognized the device and now shows me as connected to “AT&T M-Cell” as opposed to just “AT&T”.
So, does it work?
For evaluation purposes, I took a screenshot of my reception before and after. To be fair, I don’t have awful reception here - but it does drop pretty low sometimes. As soon as the MicroCell was connected, I immediately had five bars. Call quality sounds better and data transfers seem much faster. All in all, I’m extremely happy. Had it not been free, I probably would buy it.