Top critical review
484 people found this helpful
Awesome Device - Awful Policy
on June 15, 2014
This is going to be lengthy review, if you want my quick opinion: this box is incredible, turning no signal into five bars but do not purchase it. Have AT&T send you a free one.
How the Box Works
I thought I should just highlight how the box works for those that are not clear. This box is basically a mini cell tower, hence the name ‘MicroCell’. Once in operation you can make calls, texts, and run 3G and ‘4G’ HSPA data off of it (not recommended – use your home broadband for internet tasks). To do this it utilizes your existing broadband connection. This basically means AT&T is using your internet to provide you with cell service. Don’t worry; your neighbors will not be able to use the MicroCell as it only allows numbers you approve in the settings to connect to it
Rant - skip to the next paragraph if you are not interested :)
Let me start off the real review with a little rant. This box is wonderful with one exception – this should be free. AT&T should not be charging you to help fix their coverage – they should be handing these away like hot potatoes. They even charge you against your monthly allowance of minutes which may not affect those that are on the unlimited talk plans but my family is on the old 450 minute plan. Minutes are precious; if I am providing the internet connection and paying for the box calls made should not count against my minutes. What makes this worse is their pitch to pay $20 a month and get unlimited calling. Who cooked up this scam?
Some defend AT&T and say that they cannot cover the entire country inch by inch. I agree; towers are expensive to build and maintain, but I pay a lot of money for service that doesn’t cover where they say it does. In that case, it should be free. I have read a well thought out parallel on Amtrak; you pay to get from one set location to the next. If you need to get further than the closest stop you have to pay to get a bus – or other transportation – to your final destination. You would never expect Amtrak to pay for the extra transportation. Where this parallel falls apart is that Amtrak doesn’t expect you to pay them and the bus/taxi.
(End of rant)
Setting the MicroCell Up
Getting this box up and running is extremely simple. When you receive it, you have a couple of choices. If you have a wireless router, you can hook the box up in the back in one of the LAN ports (usually WiFi routers have 3-5 ports). The setup would be Wall -> Modem -> Router -> MicroCell. If you just use your home computer hooked up to a modem (cable, DSL, etc) you can hook this up directly to the modem and use the computer internet pass-through port on the MicroCell. Your setup would be Wall -> Modem -> MicroCell -> Computer.
Once you have the device all hooked up and the lights are coming online (ensure the GPS light turns green or you will be wasting a lot of time – if it comes up red, move it closer to a window), simply go to the MicroCell webpage on AT&T’s website. I usually Google “AT&T 3G MicroCell™ Activation” as I can never find the page using their homepage. It should be the first or second result. If you see an information page, click on the settings tab and hit ‘Activate’. Follow the on screen instructions. Once you fill out the information (it took me about 5 minutes) which includes the S/N number on the box, your account information, approved numbers, etc it will take anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes to activate. It took mine about 20 minutes to activate. AT&T will send the primary account holder a text message telling them the device was activated. You may have to wait a few minutes for it to connect up. When it is connected you should see the AT&T indicator on the top left change to AT&T MicroCell or an abbreviation of that. This will tell you the device is connected to the MicroCell. If you do not see this then you are not connected.
How well it Works
This will depend on how bad or good your signal was originally. It got my house which bounced between 0 and 2 bars (about -118 dBm) to bouncing between four and five bars all over the house (-51 dBm in the room it’s located in and -90 dBm at the further reaches of the +3000 sq. ft. house). It works fine on my Nexus 5 Android 4.4.3, iPhone 4S iOS 7.1.1, and Samsung Galaxy S3. I have noticed that signal strength will vary as the MicroCell attempts to compensate with the changing signal strength of the closest towers. It takes anywhere from 15 seconds to 5 minutes to connect once I get home. The S3 seems to take the longest for some reason and does occasionally disconnect. I also noticed that the MicroCell had issues the first night, stopping signal broadcast occasionally. After that it has been rock hard solid all day and night long. Texts go through just as fast as on an AT&T tower, and call quality is the same as when I sat next to a tower to compare. I did test data on my Nexus 5 for my curiosity and Ookla Speedtest gave me 4.86 Mbps downstream and .8 Mbps upstream (my cable service regularly tests at 45 Mbps downstream and 5-6Mbps downstream). I would again stress that you should not use the MicroCell for data. The data you use will count against your cap and it is most likely slower than your WiFi.
Should you Get a MicroCell?
If you have really bad signal at home, yes. The signal difference is incredible: I haven’t dropped signal at home since I got the device (I have an app called OpenSignal on my Nexus 5 that monitors my signal). You should get a MicroCell, but do not buy it: it is a complete rip-off. I called up AT&T and complained that we have had terrible service the past year or two and keep getting dropped and missed calls on multiple devices (to ensure they knew it wasn’t the problem of a phone). I was very polite and asked what they could do. The guy put me on hold for a few minutes while he looked at my account. When he got back he told me that he would be sending me a MicroCell, explaining what it was. I picked the free shipping and it got to my house in 5 full business days at no charge to me.
This is incredible. I go from missing calls from work, dropping important calls, bounced texts and texts that take 20 minutes to arrive (I compared time stamps) to 5 bars all across the house. BUT if AT&T wants my stamp of approval, they need to make it clear those with terrible signal at home qualify for these for free. They also need to stop counting minutes on calls that are made on the device. I should not be charged for minutes that MY internet powers. Also, for those that only have satellite internet or no internet at all at home: sorry folks, this won’t work for you. For those will DSL: it may not work as well as it should. I have read that those on DSL have latency issues that can introduce delays in phone calls. Not all have this issue so I would bet this is only on some providers and those with the slower/slowest plans. My cable internet connection clocks in at regularly (Ookla Speedtest) 45Mbps downstream and 5Mbps upstream with a 20ms ping (delay). I have had no trouble with latency or quality issues. Texts go through just as fast as on an AT&T tower with a strong signal, and call quality is the same as when I sat next to a tower to compare. I haven’t dropped signal at home, and I have not missed a call as of yet. I will update if it begins to have issues or flakes out on me.