(photo courtesy: Paul Stamatiou)
I took a time-out from the kitchen last night to get in touch once again with my inner geek. This time geeking out involved crawling behind the TV cabinet and wrestling with the jumble of power, USB, A/V, and Ethernet cables as well as my modem, router, and home automation controllers. (This is where all the fun stuff in our house gets its power from. The center of the island*.) I hate diving into that tangled mess doing so only as extreme necessity warrants (or as a wifi router reboot requires it.) The lure of actually getting "5 bars" of 3G cell reception for my iPhone at home won out and so I suited up to install the new ATT Microcell. This device just recently became available nationwide and it is certainly something you should consider if you have an iPhone (or any other ATT 3G phone) and your home reception is less than perfect.
I will freely admit it is a purchase that makes no sense! I bought a device that makes a service I already pay for work the way it's supposed to. Adding insult to injury, for an additional fee this device will also give me unlimited calling minutes by using another resource I already pay for: the Internet. Let me explain:
When asked about my iPhone I always tell people that the iPhone is an excellent pocket computer that sometimes works as a phone. The call drops would be annoying if I were the type of person who liked to spend a lot of time talking on the phone but I'm not. I use Google Voice as my primary number so my contacts are more often than not speaking to me on a land line when they call. (GV rings my direct office line and our home landline -- I'm usually at one of those two places anyway.) Still, it has not always been easy to get friends to use the GV number so if there was something I could do to get 5 bar reception on this thing when at home, life would be easier.
Now there is. The ATT Microcell is basically a mini cell tower that provides a 5000 square foot cell range using your home's internet connection to route calls to the ATT network. It costs $150 and gives you 5 bars at home. (You can get a cheaper deal if you buy an unlimited minutes plan or ATT DSL.) If you don't buy a $20/mo. unlimited minute plan it will just use up your plan minutes as usual. If you do, any call you initiate at home is "free", even if you leave home and continue the call on the regular network. I opted out of this since I always have plenty of minutes left over each month. Read Paul Stamatiou's review to get the lowdown on installation if you are interested in the details. My installation experience was about the same as his taking me two tries to get the GPS locked in. Once I moved the cell back in the cabinet I lost the GPS and had to start again.
So I now have one more gizmo box and power cords behind the cabinet. At least now, however, if I get a call on 3G while at home I won't have to ask the caller to hang up and then quickly call them back on my land line. I would think my apartment dweller friends in NYC would jump all over this if they can get past the price tag. (I think they can.) The truth is, not every cell carrier works well indoors anyway depending on your building construction. The call clarity is still a bit substandard but for now, my iPhone is a phone again and I'm happy about that.
Next tech project will be to install my new 802.11.n router. My laptop is n-band so hopefully my streaming audio will function better once I get this up. Oh, and I'll be all set for an iPhone 4, now improved with n-band wifi! Yup, there is a method to my madness since it looks like iPhone users will be stuck with ATT for awhile longer.
* "Lost" reference. I haven't quite let go of the tv show yet...