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AT&T 3G MicroCell to cost $150, require no monthly fees

femtocell comparisons

Prince McLean, AppleInsider

Users have reported AT&T’s new 3G MicroCell has been test launched in the Charlotte, North Carolina market, with a $150 price tag and no required monthly fees.

AT&T 3G MicroCell to cost $150, require no monthly fees
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A report published by GearLog answered some outstanding questions about the new device presented earlier.

Citing an AT&T representative in Charlotte, the report said the femtocell device provides 3.2Mbit/sec 3G service, which is on par with AT&T’s existing towers in areas of ideal service, but not the maximum 7.2MBit/sec speed supported by the iPhone 3GS. Of course, most users won’t be using the device’s 3G for data, as they presumably will be using WiFi for that.

What the device will do is blanket 5,000 square feet (about a 40 foot radius from the device) of home or office space with excellent voice, text, and data service coverage to prevent dropped calls or delayed messages. SMS messages, like voice calls, require mobile data service and can’t be sent over WiFi.

AT&T’s device will support up to four users making simultaneous calls, and up to ten users on 3G standby available for incoming calls and messages. In order to support that bandwidth, the 3G MicroCell needs to be connected to an appropriately fast broadband connection. Typical DSL service provides 1.5Mbit/sec downloads and 0.7Mbit/sec uploads; a voice call consumes around 0.04Mbit/sec upload and download.

Cost of use

The upfront cost of AT&T’s 3G MicroCell fits between Sprint’s $99 Airave and Verizon’s $250 Network Extender offering, although AT&T’s supports fast 3G voice and data with UMTS features such as multiple party calling; Sprint and Verizon only offer relatively slow, legacy 2G CDMA2000 service.

Sprint also charges a $5 monthly “Enhanced Coverage Charge” fee just to use the Airave product, in addition to an activation fee. This makes AT&T’s 3G MicroCell the cheapest option for users who just want to patch a dead service hole for their mobile, and of course the only option for iPhone users.

For $10 per month, Sprint allows unlimited calling for calls made using the device. That option will cost $20 on AT&T, but will be optional for users who want it. Verizon does not offer a “bring your own pipe” unlimited calling option at any price. Calls originated on a femtocell device are handed off to the mobile network if you leave the coverage area during the call, but remain counted against that unlimited coverage plan.

Opting for AT&T’s $20 per month MicroCell unlimited calling plan is relatively expensive, costing an extra $240 over two years. However, compared with the $960 users could save by downgrading their exiting $120 unlimited mobile plan for a 900 minute, $80 contract, the option can provide a large net savings for users who place most of their calls from a single location.

AT&T’s new device, which should begin being rolled out across the nation over the next several weeks, will allow users who live or work in dead spots to solve the issue themselves without waiting for AT&T’s network improvement plans to reach them. That promises to help Apple’s sales of the iPhone, which users in some areas have been forced to return due to specific service outages where they live or work.

femtocell comparisons

The ability for users to offload traffic from AT&T’s existing mobile network onto their own Internet connection for “last mile” service between their phone and AT&T’s back end may also help balance the company’s remaining bandwidth available to other users, effectively crowd-sourcing the problem of keeping up with the iPhone’s voracious appetite for bandwidth.

2 comments

1 Alan { 09.22.09 at 2:41 pm }

Welcome to the party AT&T, you are a little late.

I have been using my Sprint Airave device for a while now, since it came out. My house is in a dead zone for all networks, AT&T and Verizon included. I am lucky to get 1 bar of service so I had a lot of dropped calls. I called up Sprint to complain and they not only offered me a completely free Airave device, but they also waived the monthly $5 fee for better reception.

I was so impressed that I decided to add on the unlimited calls option for an extra $10 a month. The Airave does what it is supposed to do, it gives me all 5 bars and now I have unlimited phone calls from home with crystal clear reception. I have a SERO plan which cost $30 a month for unlimited data/text and 500 anytime minutes starting at 7PM. Now with the AIrave I also have unlimited voice calls and my TOTAL monthly bill is only $40 plus tax.

AT&T’s new device seems pretty expensive by comparison. I know for a fact that if you call Sprint and complain about poor reception, they will give you a free Airave and waive your monthly fees. Try that on AT&T.

As far as slower data speeds, I think that point is moot simply because the vast majority of people would tend to use either their computer for internet or at least wifi on their phones which would be far faster. In the rare instances I use data on my phone at home that is certainly what I use.

It is nice to see AT&T finally offering this device, but like Sprint they should give it to their users for free or heavily discounted. $20 a month also seems awfully expensive since you are using your cable/dsl internet connection to place calls freeing up traffic on their network.

2 Ephilei { 09.23.09 at 9:44 pm }

Long story short: AT&T wants you to buy your own cell tower and subsidize their network using your Internet access.

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