Mea culpa: In the past, we've been a bit tough on AT&T. As users of the Apple iPhone, which gets spotty service in some metropolitan areas, including New York City, we've been frustrated with the dropped calls and the static, and skeptical that the AT&T network will be able to withstand a wave of Apple iPad users. But sometimes you've gotta give credit where credit is due.
So here's a tip of the hat to AT&T, which today announced it would widen the roll-out of the Microcell, a device intended to improve cellular phone reception. Here's the 30-second primer: Like other femtocells marketed by Verizon and Sprint Wireless, the Microcell is essentially a mini-base station, which routes cell phone calls through a broadband connection. You can read more about how these mini cellphone towers work here.
The AT&T Microcell was originally sold in limited markets last September. Now it will get a full launch, and a reduced price of $49.99, with a $100 mail-in rebate. AT&T says the Microcell will bolster voice and data connections to an area of up to 5,000 square feet; the device will work with any AT&T 3G phone, and can support up to four voice or data users simultaneously. There are no monthly charges – beyond your regular phone bill. The system, however, will still deduct minutes from your cellphone plan. You can opt for a special monthly rate for unlimited calls while within the femtocell's network area.
Over at Gizmodo, Matt Buchanan writes that "AT&T's cell-reception boosting MicroCell 3G should be like, free, since it's using your pipes to route calls, but I suppose this is about as swell as we could've hoped for." We agree. We're not entirely sure that AT&T users should have to pay for a device that makes bad service a little better, but it is a step in the right direction.
Or least an acknowledgment that things can be pretty grim on the AT&T network.
In a January conference call with reporters, AT&T exec John Stankey announced that the network planned to pour more than $2 billion into infrastructure in the coming year, much of which would fund upgrades to cell sites around the country. Stankey says that AT&T would also add 2,000 new cell sites in order to improve network capacity. “We’ve got an aggressive plan to benefit everyone,” he says.