Bring On The Femtocells

3GmicrocellYesterday, AT&T announced that it was opening a public trial of its new 3G Microcell in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 3G Microcell is a femtocell that basically connects to your home internet connection and sets up a small (5000 sq. ft.) cellular tower. This is fantastic if you have high-speed internet at home, but sucky cell phone coverage. For me, in my office in our apartment, I cannot reliably make phone calls over AT&T’s 3G network – I have to force my phones to EDGE only if I want to reliably make a phone call.

The 3G Microcell, currently, is available on 2 options. Either you can pay $150 outright, for the device, plug it in, and use it like you do any other tower (uses regular minutes, etc), or you can get a rebate (presumably ~$100) and sign up for a $20/month plan. This gets you unlimited calling when connected to the 3G Microcell, rather than using your minutes.

There are two parts to this thing – the features, and the pricing.

Features

It’s a portable, consumer-friendly cell tower, with 3G support, including data (according to the spec sheet). With this thing, as long as you have a high-speed internet connection, you can have full 3G coverage in your house. That’s brilliant, and something badly needed since AT&T’s network is often hosed due to the iPhone and other data-centric devices sucking up the bandwidth. The 3G Microcell *does* have a built-in GPS receiver, though, so you can’t use it outside of the United States, as cool as *that* would be.

I can tell you, for a fact, that I’ll be purchasing one as soon as it’s available. The ability to boost my reception in my house is definitely appealing to me. This brings us to the pricing. As mentioned before, you can either purchase the device outright for $150, or you can pay a monthly fee of $20.

Pricing

The $20 per month fee is completely ridiculous, and to be honest, I can’t really see many folks going for it. It’s also practically criminal for AT&T to charge this, in my (and others’ opinion). Basically, you’re paying them monthly for the privilege of using your phone and not relying on their network. It’s not your fault their network blows, and it shouldn’t be your wallet that fixes it, either. The unlimited minutes option *is* slightly appealing, but as part of my Spending Time With The Normobs experience, I can say that minutes matter very little, and the carriers are making that more and more true every day with various promotions.

The $150 price, however, is quite nice, in my opinion. I already have plenty of minutes, as well as an abundance of Rollover minutes. Thus, I have no desire for the unlimited calling, but I can easily spare a one-time cost of $150 to boost my coverage. People have been buying signal boosters for years, and those only boost existing signal – the 3G Microcell creates its own signal, which is even better.

Personally, I don’t think consumers should be paying a dime for femtocells like the 3G Microcell. With the influx of data-centric devices across the four major carriers, it’s tough for any one of them to boast the most solid network, whereas that used to be a favorite tagline. Verizon and AT&T both also operate as ISPs, which gives them a special opportunity that neither Sprint nor T-Mobile has. If Verizon or AT&T embedded the 3G Microcell technology into their FiOS or Uverse routers, and placed them in every home in their subscriber base, they would, nearly instantly, significantly boost their network’s coverage and stability in the most important markets.

In any case, while the pricing sucks, I’ll still be buying a 3G Microcell for CasaGuru when they’re available. For the price, the capabilities that it brings are easily justified. What about you? Would you pay $150 to instantly boost your cell phone signal in your own home?

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