AT&T 3G MicroCell Review: Good Quality But Don’t Pay For It

AT&T offers a small base station calle a MicroCell, which is supposed to boost your network connection at your home. In testing, we found that the AT&T MicroCell is nice, but we wouldn’t pay for one.

When AT&T offered to give me a free 3G MicroCell, I took them up on the offer. It was part of an effort by AT&T to “reward” their loyal customers. When you read that assume it means a desire to keep loyal customers from jumping ship to Verizon. The timing of their offer leads me to this conclusion since it came at the same time Verizon began offering the iPhone 4.

 

microcell-att-verizon

The letter AT&T sent me offering a free 3G MicroCell for my "loyalty"

The 3G MicroCell is a device that hooks up to your own broadband connection and uses your network to give you very good call quality at home. Essentially, AT&T was fixing its own poor call quality by using your Internet connection and then charging you for the privilege. We’ve heard reports that they won’t charge you if you complain loud enough about your signal quality in your home. But that is not guaranteed. I didn’t have to pay because they wanted to keep my four-iPhone contract.

AT&T 3G MicroCell

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AT&T MicroCell Setup:

Setup is simple enough. The steps are as follows:

  1. Go to the AT&T 3G MicroCell Activation site: www.att.com/3GMicroCell.
  2. Turn off your broadband modem and router (or just modem if you don’t use a router).
  3. Connect included Ethernet cable to Ethernet port on the MicroCell (yellow port in picture below).
  4. Connect the other end of the cable to your router.
  5. Plug in and/or turn on the broadband modem first.
  6. Plug in and/or turn on the router second, if you have one.
  7. Plug in the MicroCell last, which turns it on.
  8. Wait at least 90 minutes or until you get a text message from AT&T saying that you are activated.

AT&T 3G MicroCell Hookup

For owners of a router, just plug in the provided Ethernet cable

Our text message came about 40 minutes after we hooked everything up. If you don’t use a router between your broadband modem and your computer, then we suggest you get one before hooking this up. It is much simpler and actually safer thanks to features in the router that filter out harmful Internet connections, like a firewall does. The feature is called NAT. You don’t have to get a router. If you choose not to, then do step #1 above and then follow these steps below:

  1. Unplug the broadband router and make sure the computer is shut down (not asleep or hibernating but shut down).
  2. Disconnect the computer from the modem by unplugging the cable from the modem first.
  3. Attach the unplugged cable to the port labelled Computer on the MicroCell (the black port in picture above).
  4. Connect the provided Ethernet cable to the port labelled Ethernet on the back of the MicroCell (yellow port in picture above).
  5. Plug the other end of the provided cable into the Ethernet port on your broadband modem.
  6. Turn on the modem back on and wait till the lights are on.
  7. Turn on the MicroCell by connecting the power cable.

You will know that the MicroCell is turned on and waiting for AT&T to activate it because the top two lights will be turned on. They represent Power and Ethernet. If you hooked up to a computer instead of a router, then the fourth light down, which looks like a computer, will be either solid green or flashing green if data is being sent across the MicroCell to/from the computer. When the MicroCell is fully activated by AT&T the bottom light that looks like cell phone signal quality bars will be solid green.

AT&T MicroCell Review:

The AT&T 3G MicroCell is simple to set up. The included documentation is easy to follow and has plenty of information if you get into trouble. For us, activation worked just as it was described the first time. It took less than the 90 minutes the manual claims it takes for AT&T to recognize the MicroCell and activate it on their network. So as tech gadget setups go, this one was one of the easiest we’ve done.

iPad/iPhones Show M-Cell

iPad/iPhones Show M-Cell when connected

Our four cell phones and one 3G iPad 2 have full signal strength (see image to the right). In the indicator icons for signal strength of both the iPad and iPhone, instead of just cell bars like a normal phone it says “M-Cell 3G” to show that you are hooked up through the MicroCell. We haven’t noticed any signal problems with the phone or the iPad 2. Our home Internet signal was not affected while using the cell phones either. So the AT&T 3G MicroCell works as designed. The call quality has been great in the limited testing we’ve done so far.

But is it worth whatever you would have to pay if you didn’t get the MicroCell for free from AT&T like we did? For me the answer is a big, “NO!” AT&T tries to up-sell you on getting unlimited calling while using the 3G MicroCell. But they charge an extra $19.95 for the service. That is absolutely ridiculous when you are the one providing the bandwidth for the calls through your own Internet broadband service.

The only way I would ever pay for this is if my home area had horrible 3G service and AT&T did nothing about it. Then I would still not add the unlimited calling unless I was also getting rid of my home telephone service. In that case $20 extra a month on my AT&T bill might save me money. But even then the principal of paying AT&T for something I am actually providing myself just irks me. I’d really have to NEED it before doing so!

3G MicroCell

We don't think you should have to pay to fix AT&T's network issues

Our recommendation regarding the AT&T 3G MicroCell is don’t bother, unless they give you one for free. If they do, don’t add the unlimited calling for $20/month unless you plan to get rid of your home phone and this saves you money. Even at that, I think I would call AT&T first and see if complaining loudly would get them to offer the monthly unlimited plan for free or a reduced rate. It’s unlikely they will, but give it a try. In short, we don’t think customers should ever have to pay to fix a company’s poor service quality!

  

Comments

  1. Steven says

    This is all well and good, and AT&T tried to keep me with one of these. But we do not have an internet connection in the home. They have not run cables for it, and we don’t pay for DSL. We have always tethered and run, slow as it is, through our smartphone. I even bought a Wilson antenna for our last phone, and we could go from zero bars to three bars- staying plugged in to the antenna. It seems like the customers who are having poor signal problems are folks like me, in areas where there are few antennas. Those areas are not going to have internet access, so this is more of a solution looking for a problem. A repeater is about the only solution, but there is a price to pay, and don’t expect any cell phone company to supplement the cost.

  2. Kevin Cossaboon says

    I can not get the iPad 3G to use the MicroCel, and the support line told me it is unsupported. I tried to add the cell data number found on the iPad, and the website states it is not valid :(

  3. LW says

    I got the same letter, and picked up the FREE MicroCell. For me, it’s great since my Iphone didn’t have any reception in the house. I live in a canyon surrounded by trees and my cell reception outside is “2 bars” at best. This MicroCell boosted my reception to all 5 bars. I did already have DSL in my home.

  4. Ron says

    One thing you need to be aware of, as I have discovered, is that you need to have the Microcell in front of a window with a clear line of sight to the sky.  Mine was about 4 feet away in a place I could get a good signal on my cell phone but the Microcell would not activate.  After 2 online chat sessions and a long voice session with tech support, their solution is for me to buy a longer ethernet cable so I can put the Microcell in front of the window.  Apparently I was supposed to have known that by reading the literature that I didn’t get until I picked up the Microcell.  Sure glad I didn’t pay for this thing.

    Also, if you have any older phones or a Go Phone on your account, you have to delete that number from the Microcell set up or it won’t activate.  This will only work with 3G or 4G phones.

    • Duffy says

      Not true, at least for us.  Our modem and microcell are on a shelf in our master bedroom closet, nowhere near a window, and  it has boosted our signal from 2 bars or no service at all to 4-5 bars anywhere in the house or yard. We were given a free one when we politely complained about poor signals in our area.

  5. Sukie9 says

    Having NO cell phone service in my home, (not acceptable!) I bought the 200$ microcell and it’s been three days and still can’t get it to work!!

    • Bob Bogart says

      Took me 5 days to get the thing to work.  Set up is not as simple as reviewer describes.  I had to change my router to remove all firewall functions to get the thing to connect.  Used a consumer quality Linksys.  The business class router I was using is now behind the Linksys protecting the rest of my network.  Could not get it to connect with pinholes in the better router. 

  6. Guypapa says

    I have an acount with 2 Iphones and the neither the phone rep nor her manager would agree to providing this microcell free of charge. The best deal they provided was a $100 rebate – but I had to subscribe to the $19.95/month unlimited microcell service. Some deal!

    • Tori says

       I got the same “deal” with a rebate/credit of $100 to my bill but what is a $19.95 microcell service (never heard of that)?  That’s way too much.  I guess if you had gone to cancellations they may have made it more attractive.  i was just ready to pay the cancellation fee just now because they told me before that my microcell requires DSL well the only DSL provider here is ATT and my dsl is sucky.  So I told them I would pay to cancel them and move all of my serivces (even though I liked their service but why pay for what doesn’t work).  I got a 6 months free of unlimited texting and found out that i CAN swithc my internet provider to Cable company.  So I”m switching the internet to cable and phone to Voice pulse and this way I’ll be getting 6x internet speed for only $10 more than I’m paying now. 

  7. Livplepeds says

    Easy to set up and five bars when in the same 12′ square room where it sits. Immediate drop off in any distance over 12′. My wireless in the house covers 60′. What an expensive let down.

  8. Pcbosis says

    I am in a bad area for cell service.  I have to go outside my front door to even get service.  I have talked to customer service several times and have been offered the microcell but have to pay $100 for it.  The cell system went down a week ago in the LA area so I called to get credit for the down time and told them about the lack of coverage in my area and told them about the microcell and the lady on the phone from att was very great and got me one free and even paid for the shipping.  I have been out of work for quite a while and the economy is not getting better and when you have to pay almost $100 a month for a cell phone that does not even work without the microcell then it sucks.  After installing the microcell and waiting about 60 minutes it started to work and now I get full bars on my cell and am able to finally receive and send texts without the cell saying no service.  The microcell does need to be near a window or it will not work.  I have been with ATT for over 13 years so they better take care of a long time customer or they will loose me.

  9. Ekoster1004 says

    Our new office space has zero bars on our Iphones which was unacceptable, as many customers and vendors contact us on our cell phones. After purchasing the MicroCell, I went to the office, hooked it up to a switch connected to a router connected to the modem.  Within 10 minutes the MicroCell was online, about 8 feet (AWAY) from the window, and I now have 5 bars in my office!  I am extremely satisfied with this product, and I don’t have to pay extra for unlimited calls.  Granted, it would be better if AT&T would get more towers in the area, however, we have employees who have verizon service, but have no signals at our office either, so this product works for us.

  10. Erikjw says

    on the phone with ATT right now..what a p i t a.  22 minutes and getting passed around like a hot potato.  This is after a re-set yesterday…this is what they make you go through before talking further about the micro site.  the “rebate” is over for the microsite.  They said they would credit my account $60 for the lack of service on our two phones..but would reverse the charge if I switched carriers within 60 days..Trying to hold me hostage is NOT the answer.  The said $199 for the microsite.

  11. vajoe78 says

    Has anyone had problems with the MicroCell interfering with your bandwidth availability for other devices.  My home is 100% wireless except for the primary U-Verse receiver.  With 3 phones, an iPad, 2 laptops and an additional wireless U-Verse set-top box, I am hoping that the added overhead of a microcell won’t cause bandwidth issues / signal loss.  Anyone with bad / good experience?

  12. Vipe1016 says

    We had poor reception at our house, usually 1-2 bars.  Chatted with AT&T and they gave me the line that they couldn’t pay for the MicroCell.  No problem I said, I am sure Verizon works in my house so can I talk with someone about cancelling?  To make a long story short they credited my account for 240 dollars and I went and bought the MircroCell and it gives us all 5 bars of coverage.  Great deal.  Too bad we had to threaten them to do the right thing. 

  13. kaitlin.s says

    Didn’t really care for the MicroCell, my dad bought it. I have one major problem with it, however. My iMessages, which usually took 5 seconds to send without the device, now take 5 minutes or don’t deliver at all. I have to check if they sent now, or send them as text messages. Overall, not worth it.

  14. Michael_e says

    This device drops calls all the time. It also loses connection to AT&T giving you one to two bars. I also notice it taking up too much bandwidth at times.

  15. Chia says

    It is not totally compatible with the iphones.  Phone goes from Microcell to regular 3G and calls get dropped.  Have complained to AT&T since purchased and they just say they are aware of the problem and are working on it but do not have a time table of when it will be fixed..

  16. Twtabin says

    I bought a 3gMicrocell from someone and didn’t know they needed to cancel their account.. I can’t activate my information and have no way of contacting the previous owner

  17. Burntpepsi says

    Went to the ATT store today and told them my buddy got a free Microcell and they said they aren’t giving them away free anymore. I have zero to maybe 1 bar signal but mostly because we spend a lot of our time in our basement so not surprised we don’t have service underground but I wasn’t going to tell ATT that’s why I don’t have a signal. I told them I would just pay for it because there is no point in having service if I can use it. They got the device and looked at my account and probably noticed I pay about $165 a month for our family plan and said, “we’ll just give this to you for free”. This was today. I’m looking forward to hooking this thing up and trying out tonight. I see a lot of people selling these on eBay so they are probably just making sure we aren’t just planning on getting a free product and turning around and selling it. The trick I guess is to actually tell them you will pay for it and call their bluff.

  18. PreciousStewart says

    well I’ve talked with at&t and they said I dont need DSL or satellite internet for it to work. I only have the wireless internet thru at&t. So after reading all of the info above i’m confused if I should get the microcell or not…any advice?

  19. Patrick Bullock says

    I paid $50 for my microcell.  Even though I live within 2 miles of the ATT cell tower, I can’t get reliable cell coverage within my house.  I live in a heavily foliated area under a canopy of trees.  This results in most of the cell signal being attenuated to an unuseable level.  If the microcell can receive satisfactory GPS signals (used for critical timing and location) without proximity to a window then I guess it can work inside a hidden area. I agree with the reviewer, however, that one shouldn’t have to pay again for service that they have already paid for.  Although there is nothing illegal about this practice, it certainly appears unfair, and should invite an FCC/FTC inquiry.

    The microcell performs as promised, and I’m satisfied with its performance.  It would probably work best where there is no existing ATT cell service rather than an area where service is spotty.

  20. karen rands says

    We have been with ATT for internet and phone since 1987 when it was Bellsouth. We switched to their wireless about 3 years ago. About 9 months ago our cell coverage at our house went from good to horrible. I called ATT, they suggested the micro cell and would give me a rebate so that it only cost $99. I went to the corp store to see if it was a problem with the phones, did they turn the tower…they suggested I call and complain to customer service because they would give me a tower. I tried that a couple of times…no luck. Then the uverse sales team came to my door. Told me that just installing uverse would boost my cell coverage as if I had the microcell. It did not. I called Uverse, the switched me to the wireless folks. Still no budge. I said…so let me get this straight… You won’t spend $100 to keep a $2000 a year cell customer happy, much less a 24 year customer happy?

  21. Leigh says

    I received the Microcell yesterday after calling on Monday an complaining that I don’t get any service in my home. I told them I was interested in cancelling my service because I am basically paying for nothing. They tried to sell me the microcell for $200. I said so let me get this straight, I have to pay an extra $200 for service that I already pay for or pay a $250 cancellation for service that I don’t get. Where is the logic. The long and short of it is that I got the microcell for free and hook up was very easy. My bars are now at 5 and I have crystal clear conversations with people who at one point I couldn’t even talk too. I am happy with it. ALTHOUGH if I had to pay for it I would be furious.

  22. Ted says

    Is there a Microcell made specifically for 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) service? I’ve had contradictory answers from ATT, one saying no, another saying they’re $100 more.
    (ATT 3G Microcells are made by Cisco.).

  23. Ron Reiter says

    I got no bars before getting the Micro Cell. It’s been a Godsend. I now get five bars of reception anywhere in the house. It’s so great that I’ve cancelled my land line and am now saving $35 a month!!

  24. Thurman Mullins says

    I don’t guess I am appreciated! I had to pay for my microcell and it at this time does not work. I called about it and the next day it worked
    for a little while. Now I know why people in this area tells me to drop at&t. like they have, I am going to check my contract and as soon as my time is up I am going to drop at&t.

  25. Cody says

    I just got off the phone with AT&T. After a 2 1/2 hour convo, I finally convinced them to give me a micro cell for free! Now I have to go get Internet installed in my home. Can I just get wireless Internet? What is broadband? I’m dumb with this stuff? How does it work and what is the best thing for me to do? I will say that I don’t have a landline nor any landline cables or outlets in my house. Someone please advise. Thanks

  26. BHVictim says

    You will not believe what I found out about at&t. You can hire one of their dedicated employees to go through your phone record and conjure lies about you, if you pay enough that is (KIA Optima). They believe that they have a right to violate their customer’s rights and amendments and try to use it against them. It’s funny because if you make a complaint they will just turn it around and target you. They’re pretty much stating that they can do anything and everything they want with your personal info and will if they are paid enough. Everybody reading until now is probably wondering why would this person think such a thing? Why would a fortune 50 company go and violate one person’s rights and ones amendments? That’s a good question people. I would like to know the same, because for some reason one of their employees go through my phone records and spreading rumors and lies. Why is this ok with them? I wonder as much as you do? Why does this employee get compensated for his crimes against a normal civilian, you have to wonder (Kia Optima)? It seems as though these fortune 50 companies like to do whatever they want and act however they want these days. I say we should all unite and teach them a lesson or two about respect. They keep forgetting that we are the entity that drives these companies, that without us they would not they exist, that through us (each and everyone) we give them life, and these minor details are the reason why they should learn to respect. It seems like there position in life and their ability to neglect clients are becoming a common reality for most consumers. That they believe they can get away with whatever actions. I say we form a union against these tyrants and teach them, that without us they’re nothing. Learn to respect and then respect will be given, so until then I hope this teaches you a lesson.

  27. Doug says

    This by far is worst device I have to deal with in over 30 years in the tech business. If it works great but if any problems which I have now had for days no help anywhere. They can’t provide good cell phone service so I had to pay several hundred dollars for this unit which now either flashes red on the Gps or for last day just green. I am going to go to Verizon at least I won’t need some bogus piece of equipment that is not reliable and with no real support.

  28. Kelly Riverwalker Thomas says

    For years no cell service inside my home. AT&T sent me the microcell FREE with no problem. Easy to hook up and now I have five bars. It works great!

  29. Karen says

    I have been trying to get this thing to work for a year and a half.
    Att has sent me two replacements. Sometimes they can get it to work for an hour or so. Most of the time Not. I have spent many, many, hours on the phone trying to get satisfaction. The thing just is no good.

  30. Jeff says

    I bought one of these as soon as it was available in my area. I live in a valley with lots of trees and hardly any coverage on my phone until I walk up my 300 ft driveway and get maybe 2 bars. I hooked this thing up and after a week and two phone calls with tech support, It has worked awesome since. The reason for tech support was that we had just changed our address from a Rural Route to a physical street number due to 9-11, and GPS didn’t understand where we were. Tech support got it fine tuned the second time and the rest is history. In my case this was the best thing since sliced bread. I paid $150 for this and it was well spent.

  31. Kay says

    If anyone got their free cell tower and never activated it and wouldn’t mind getting rid of it, let me know. Otherwise, now they are charging $200 for one of these

    • Pat says

      I will sell you mine. It’s brand new and I don’t need it and nerve used it. Still in the box. paquino AT triersoftware dot com

  32. Manuela says

    $199 is way too much to have to pay for this considering the amount that AT&T charges just for cell phone plans. They should really check into making the microcell an option (free of charge) to customers who don’t get good reception at home. I spend over an hour online (chat) with a rep only to be told that they are $199, that MAYBE the customer care department could give me a ‘better’ deal, or check your local AT&T store, they might have a special right now. Come on, I pay $150 a month for ONE smart phone and two flip phones that have NO internet on them… really… and they want me to spend another $199 so I can have signal at my house?? I’m looking to buy one CHEAP if anyone has one they have not activated andwant to sell.

  33. Bubba Yarfkowitz says

    FYI: I moved in to a house with aluminum siding and a metal roof. ZERO connectivity. Not AT&T’s fault…but I still tried to get them to give me one of these for free. They conceded the connectivity issue but would only drop the price in half. Good enough. Brought it home, configured it in ten minutes, waited the mandatory “90 minutes” for it to complete the config process and WOOHOO!!! I have five bars where I had ZERO, and on all three floors of the house. Yes, I vehemently dislike the fact that I had to purchase an additional device but it’s resolved the issue. I’m a happy customer.

    • Kelly Thomas says

      Don’t get too excited just yet. Wait and see how many calls are dropped. It works great then disconnects for a bit before working again. Very aggravating.

  34. Mike says

    We received a free microcell. I had to argue with ATT about paying them to use my internet access to improve their poor service in my area. The microcell worked great for about a month then died. They replaced it for free. The new one has been going for about 8 months. Like a cheap wireless router, it must be restarted a couple times per month. It improved our call quality from 1 bar to 5 bars. It’s great when it works.

  35. Mike says

    In addition to my previous post, we have had ATT for years and our service gradually declined from 4 bars to 1. We have 3 cell towers in our area. They (ATT) did admit that our towers were terrible and in need of repair. They had no idea how long it would be before the towers would get serviced. Your service can decline over time and they do have a way of knowing the status (green to red) if those towers.

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