AT&T Launches Charlotte-only public trial of 3G MicroCell | CLT Blog

AT&T Launches Charlotte-only public trial of 3G MicroCell

Posted on 21 Sep 2009 by Justin Ruckman


AT&T launched the public trial of its 3G MicroCell device today which basically serves as a mini cell tower, using your internet connection to boost your mobile device’s voice and data — particularly useful for people in areas of spotty connectivity. The MicroCell sells for $150 with no recurring fees.

Additionally, you can pay $20 a month for unlimited calling, which circumvents your normal voice minutes whenever you originate a call from the device’s connection. This drops to $10 a month if you’re an AT&T internet or landline subscriber, and is free if you’re a subscriber of both.

Other carriers offer similar offerings at various price points and service plans, so the device itself isn’t incredibly unique. It’s interesting to me that Charlotte was chosen as the first trial city. This aligns with a previous announcement of high speed 7.3 Mbps HSPA data availability later this year in Charlotte along with a handful of other, notably larger, cities.

Perhaps this is because AT&T’s network infrastructure here is exceptionally thorough; I know I usually have excellent service on my AT&T phone while I hear others from around the country often complaining. Andria Krewson (@underoak) noted some spottiness in her 3G connection today, which could possibly be related to some kind of local network upgrades to accommodate the new system.

More info on the MicroCell over at HowardForums and on Engadget.


  1. Justin Holt 21 Sep 2009 at 12:23 PM

    I use the Sprint Airave (basically the same thing) Femtocell in my Noda loft. The NODA area, in particular the area between 34th and 36th on davidson st., are notoriously bad areas for Sprint signal.

    Until I got the Airave, my Palm Pre was almost constantly searching for a signal, bouncing between a faint roam and 1-bar EVDO. After plugging in the unit to my wireless router, and allowing it to grab a good GPS signal and map to Sprint system, I was at 5 bars 2G as soon as it rebooted.

    the only drawbacks, if you START a call OUTSIDE the range of the Femtocell, and then walk INTO signal of the Femtocell, the handoff does NOT occur between the two and you drop the call. the complete opposite occurs on calls initiated ON the Femtocell network, then walk OUT of range and into EV signal it WILL handoff the call seamlessly.

    Also rumor has it the Sprint Airave has such a strong signal, that it can potentially effectively block ALL other non-sprint carrier signals (ie, your friend’s Verizon) although I have not personally seen any issues with my GF’s Verizon phone since installation of the Airave.

    I’m not sure about the limitations of the AT&T device, but with the Sprint Airave you can support 5 calls at a time max, but the signal does not block any numbers specifically (or allow only certain numbers only) UNLESS YOU SPECIFICALLY set it up that way (sprint recommends not to). So potentially if you live in an area with bad coverage and LOTS of Sprint subscribers, you could be providing better coverage to everyone at the cost of YOUR bandwidth.

    All in all, I can say I am very satisfied with the Sprint Airave Femtocell unit and would recommend the AT&T unit to anyone experiencing the same issues as I.

    • Avatar of Justin Ruckman
      Justin Ruckman 21 Sep 2009 at 12:28 PM

      I’m actually thinking of switching to Sprint for the forthcoming release of the HTC Hero. I’m curious how Sprint’s reception is going to compare to AT&T — definitely gonna buy it on a trial basis first before I cancel my AT&T account.

      • Justin Holt 21 Sep 2009 at 2:14 PM


        Aside from my home area, and another small area where Parkwood and Plaza meet, I have yet to find another area in the city where I get less than 2 bars EVDO Sprint. Mostly 1G-2G.

  2. Dave Potts 21 Sep 2009 at 12:49 PM

    I’d consider this too, but it’s hard to get over the idea that I’d be paying extra for something I should be getting in the first place. If cell co’s were doing their job, a device like this should only be necessary in outlying areas.

  3. Austin Light 21 Sep 2009 at 1:59 PM

    I’m on Verizon right now–rolled off Alltel–but I’ve thought about switching to AT&T because I want an iPhone that bad…

    Then I read what gizmodo had to say about these microcells, and I’m not so sure.

  4. Andria 21 Sep 2009 at 2:20 PM

    Thanks, Justin, for the details.
    Seems it might be a good thing for some businesses that live in AT&T shadow zones, particularly in downtown Charlotte. I don’t see a need or cost saving at home, though, unless I bundled everything with AT&T. But the if AT&T goes out, everything goes out. I feel better with a little redundancy.

    Maybe we can build cell towers into the trolley line or something.…

  5. Rik 22 Sep 2009 at 11:46 AM

    Don’t wait for the cancer to come to you, bring home today for the low low price of $199. This seems kinda strange, I know people don’t have landlines but to pay for the privilege to have service at home. Aren’t these mobile phones.

    • Avatar of Justin Ruckman
      Justin Ruckman 22 Sep 2009 at 11:49 AM

      Haha, yeah I’m not sure how I feel about the idea in general. I think the price is way too high. $50 tops.

      • Rik 22 Sep 2009 at 11:54 AM

        Yeah, I agree. If it improves personal service for $50 flat its good. Do you know if it extends service for all or is it only for yourself. I ask this because wireless carriers pay good money for tower space. This seems like a way to get payed and to extend there service.

        • Avatar of Justin Ruckman
          Justin Ruckman 22 Sep 2009 at 12:00 PM

          Anyone with an AT&T phone will by default have access to the device, their phone will switch to it just like it would switch to a normal tower. From what it sounds like, range is approximate to a wifi router, so while there will be some leaching, there probably won’t be much. If it’s like the Sprint version, you can choose to limit it to certain phone numbers, or ban numbers outright — again, just like a router.

  6. Wimax BB 14 Mar 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Continue to keep up the excellent effort!