Review of the AT&T MicroCell or Personal Cell Tower?

I finally had a chance to get around to doing a review on the AT&T MicroCell, but in the end, the MicroCell review was different than I had anticipated.  I was so excited when I found out that AT&T’s MicroCell had come to Auburn a few months ago, especially because I have been desperately wanting to cancel our landline for years. I have NEVER (yes never) had a cell signal at my house, and no matter how many times AT&T doesn’t believe me, I still can’t make a cell call from my house, so the AT&T MicroCell I thought was finally going to be THE thing to be able to solve the cell signal issues we have here.

Well, I gave it about one or two months to test out to see if I would actually be able to cancel my landline, and at this point, no way. The concept is really cool, but there are far more negatives associated with the MicroCell than the positives. For me, since I have no cell coverage here, I am going to just keep it, after all, what else can I do with it.

The two big issues I have with the MicroCell is that the phone calls drop constantly (yes, even more than the normal cell tower), and the call quality is really like a bad Skype call. There is a huge delay (I’m talking 1-2 seconds) when talking with anyone, a noticeable echo, and occasionally there is just overall call interference. The fact that AT&T actually has a monthly fee that you can (not required) to pay on this “cell tower” is so laughable that it is an insult that they would even try to charge for what we already pay for with our AT&T/BellSouth landline, AT&T Internet service, and AT&T cell service. To charge me for a signal I already pay for it ridiculous.

So, about all the MicroCell is useful for on an ongoing basis is the ability to send and receive text messages, but I wasn’t able to do that before the MicroCell, so I guess paying $150 for text messages is probably not the best use of money either, but there was no way to know that before hand. If you are still going to get one, be sure to allow for plenty of setup time, along with other ridiculous requirements like making sure it is near a window (see photo below, that isn’t quite close enough) for the GPS signal, and also make sure it isn’t near your WiFi signal (how I don’t know, but that’s what AT&T says). I will start with the Pros since there really aren’t that many. My list of Cons or reasons I would not recommend the MicroCell if you have another option available to you (we don’t) I will continue to evaluate, but in our situation (no AT&T service for miles around) this is our only choice.

AT&T MicroCell Pros

  • You can send and receive text messages (if you couldn’t before)
  • Voice mail works, you just can’t call anyone back
  • If you really HAVE to make a phone call (like long distance), you can, but don’t expect much
  • Range is about 5,000 Sq Feet, so you can get the signal in the whole house (if within widow shot)
  • People think it’s cool to have one (I just threw that one in there, to make this list longer)
  • You get this really cool AT&T M-Cell signal on your iPhone (that’s one doesn’t really count either)

AT&T MicroCell Cons

  • Drops more calls than the regular cell towers do
  • Major interference with the phone calls that don’t drop
  • Major delay talking from person to person, like 1-2 seconds
  • AT&T charges any data against your data use even though you are using your own Internet ISP (whoa)
  • GPS signal is impossible to keep and reconnect if power goes out
  • Setup, while not technically difficult, is a pain, and takes forever (45-90 minutes)
  • If setup doesn’t work on your own, you are pretty much out of luck
  • AT&T has basically no support for the MicroCell (i.e. anyone that knows anything)
  • It costs $150 when AT&T should be providing cell coverage for their own customers
  • Not supposed to put it near the WiFi signal even though it uses an ethernet cable itself
  • Your only “allowed” to add 5 phone numbers that can use the signal (might be 10 can’t remember, but any limit is stupid)
  • Any allowed numbers have to be manually added on the AT&T website, every time you want to change
  • You will need a additional router if you don’t have an empty ethernet slots available
  • They actually charge $15 a month for unlimited use that doesn’t count against your cell service (crazy)

Apple and AT&T Set Another Round of Innovation in iPhone 4

I will be the first to say it, I love Apple.  I love how they market their products.  I love how they package their products, and I love the innovation they have created, much of which has changed the face of the world forever.  AT&T, not so much, but it’s a package deal. In doing so, they have also created new type of consumerism like none who have come before, and all during a recession at that.

This time from the WWDC, Apple comes out with another technological landmark product, or an update to a landmark product, the iPhone 4 with iOS 4.  Not just fabulous eye candy, which Apple always seems to achieve, but innovations to a cell phone that have never been seen before, and as Apple does so well, they made it a must buy item, with even more help from AT&T.

To Buy In or Not to Buy In

That really isn’t all bad of course, but, from a Christian perspective, there has to be a reality check somewhere along the way.  The arguments you could make on both sides of this debate are endless.  The huge, broad, range of reasons why we as Christians should or should not consume, and how much, and of what products, could contain volumes.  I just wanted to touch on one specific aspect, AT&T’s early up on their contract dates.

In the information age of 2010, we are now the most instant and disposable consumers the planet has ever seen.  We can’t wait for anything, ever, and most of the time we don’t have to.  The comment above from WWDC on MacWorld‘s live stream just hit the nail on the head.

You mean I have to wait two and a half weeks to get an iPhone 4? Augggggh! 😉

He was kidding, but, not really, and AT&T agreed.  [Not trying to pick on Jason Snell from Macworld, I loved reading his live updates from the keynote, and I can’t imagine how many tweets I read that said the exact same thing… except they were tweets from pastors of large evangelical churches, worship leaders, seminary students… in other words, the church body (yes we love our Macs)… all clamoring to buy Apple’s latest.]

Buy Now, Save Later, Sign Here

At the same time Steve Jobs was giving the keynote, news from AT&T started surfacing that they would graciously allow almost anyone anyone who had a contract with them (that would be everyone who uses an iPhone in the U.S.) that extended beyond 2010, to upgrade to the new iPhone 4, right now.  [For those unaware of how cell companies work, AT&T dings you for a 2 year contract every time you get a new phone, but after one year, you can get another new phone, at a discounted price, and up your contract again for 2 more years.]

By the time the keynote was over, yes, even Apple made it official. AT&T was going to allow their customers to spend money on a new iPhone, right now, instead of having to wait for the contract upgrade date to come up (mine is in August and my wife’s is in October).  All it will cost you, besides the price of the phone of course, is another two years of your life, in bondage to AT&T. [Of course you can break the contract but AT&T also upped the ETF (Early Termination Fee) to $325 PER PHONE starting June 1 for anyone wanting to free themselves from Ma-Bell, and at the same time did away with their unlimited data plan.]

When Does the 2-Year Curse End?

So, where or when does it end?  I started looking at it from my own point of view. Both of our phones are actually, banish the thought, only 2nd generation iPhones (old iPhone 3G‘s, not the 3G-S).  Our one year contract date (stated above) comes up this year and we could just wait and upgrade then.  But if we do that, we will actually be EXTENDING our contracts to October 2012.  If we upgraded right now, we would be out of our AT&T contract in June 2012.  But hey, even Steven Jobs carries an old phone (or hasn’t updated the OS), so maybe we could do the same.

Either way, we end up committing to a 2-year relationship with AT&T (not that we have a choice in the matter), at some $2,000+ a year.  A commitment that not even many parishioners will do for their own church.  We could say no, enough is enough, and just sit there and read 2 Corinthians 6:14 over and over until we convince ourselves that life is possible without a 2 year contract?

I guess it is possible to be without a cell phone contract?  Two households in my immediate family actually don’t have one (my sister’s and my uncle’s), so I know it’s possible. But me, I have been “under contract” in one form or another to a cell phone company for more than 15 years, that’s something like $36,000 give or take, and longer than many marriages last today.  As it turns out, those contracts never do expire.  Once you are in, they’ve got you, and there’s no way out.  It’s like trying to quit the gym.

It’s legal, immediate, addicting, consumerism Meth, AT&T & Apple style, except an intervention won’t work.  You either pay a lot now to get out ($650 for a household of 2), or you pay a ton in little 2-year chunks until the next must have device comes out.  To bad I don’t actually have AT&T cell coverage where I live, then I could actually get some use out of my AT&T never-ending contract.  Oh well, at least I can upgrade to the new iPhone 4, who cares if I can actually make a phone call.

Thanks, Paul of Tarsus

Or, maybe Paul actually knew what he was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthian church way back in the mid 50’s.  Even though it is such an ingrained part of our culture, such an integrated part of our lives in the 21st century, maybe we should, at least question, whether we as believers in Christ should be “bound together” by such terms.

In the end this looks to be one of the best updates to the iPhone Apple has made, especially when you take into consideration the display resolution. I will probably trade my older phone in for the new version, but there is probably an iPhone 5 around the corner somewhere.