AT&T’s 3G Microcell: Relief from shoddy service, at a price

AT&T wireless subscribers unfortunate enough to live in a dead zone can get help from AT&T’s 3G Microcell.

The 3G Microcell is AT&T’s name for Femtocell technology, which provides cell phone service through a home broadband connection. After a trial run that began in September, the 3G Microcell is now available nationwide, and can be ordered from AT&T’s Web site.

The product plugs into your existing Internet service through an Ethernet cable and creates a cellular signal throughout the home, even when thick walls or distant towers prevent outside cellular service from getting in.

AT&T has come under fire for unreliable service, especially after the iPhone drastically increased demand on the carrier’s network. A Microcell would help with those issues as well by taking the burden off of AT&T’s towers. Femtocell technology also allows for data use, not just voice calls.

The 3G Microcell could either be a money-saver or a ripoff depending on your situation. There’s a one-time charge of $150, which is a drag if you have no intention of changing your existing subscription plan. However, $20 per month gets you unlimited calls through the Microcell, plus $100 off the base price, and you can connect up to 10 devices. This makes a good impetus to drop your landline. Also, the Microcell could be more cost-efficient than a family cellular plan if you have a family of talkers that mostly places calls from home.

Still, I’ve lived in a couple places where cell phone service has worked well with one carrier, and not another (often, it’s Verizon Wireless offering a superior signal than AT&T, but that could be luck of the draw). If you’re in this situation, it’s hard not to look at a $150 femtocell and think you’re getting fleeced.