AT&T’s 3g Microcell Scam

AT&T is beta testing what they call a 3g Microcell in select markets. In a nutshell, this is a mini, personal cell tower for your home. It bridges a local 3g router with your existing broadband connection. When available in your market, the microcell is available to AT&T wireless customer at an additional fee. It can blanket 5,00 square feet with a strong signal (probably under optimal conditions, not in a city). It is locked to your phones only. You must have a 3g phone. Engadget has a more detailed write up.

Let me make sure you understand. For the privilege of having a usable wireless signal in / around your home, you can pay AT&T an additional charge. This is on top of the $80+ you are already paying for your wireless plan. Along with that, AT&T also gets to use your pipe, not theirs, to provide you the signal. The pipe you are already paying for to them (via AT&T DSL) or some other broadband provider, on top of the $80, on top of the charge for the Microcell.

Depending on the additional microcell charge, this is somewhere between a bad insult and rape. I expect to have a usable wireless phone service for $80 / month. I’m certainly open to working outside the box to make it better, but I shouldn’t have to pay an additional charge. If anything, AT&T should provide a kickback to microcell users, as it is using the microcell host’s broadband pipe and not further clogging AT&T’s. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that microcell users would be connected to their microcell more than any other cell “tower”, possibly with the exception of their employer’s locale (and it makes sense for businesses to have microcells of their own anyway). That means that the microcell is diverting large percentage of traffic that would otherwise be filling up AT&T’s pipes.

Here’s how AT&T should make use of microcell technology. In areas where many users report spotty service, AT&T should contact customers and offer them free microcells. The microcell host should get some discount just for using the microcell for their own purposes. Additionally, if the user agrees, they can share some configurable portion of their broadband and make it available through the microcell for surrounding customers. The microcell host should get a discount proportional to how much service they provide, proportional to the load they take off AT&T’s pipes. AT&T should make larger-scale microcells available to businesses (millicells?).

At even a small monthly discount, AT&T would have more volunteers than they would know what to do with. In densely populated areas, this would be a godsend for them.

This idea does complicate deployment to some degree. The microcell needs to monitor and throttle bandwidth and connections, and reject connections when the limit is reached. For discounts, it needs to track and upload usage back to AT&T. These are not hard problems by any means. I also wonder how broadband providers would feel about AT&T offloading traffic onto their networks without providing any compensation.

5 Responses to AT&T’s 3g Microcell Scam

  1. […] a previous entry, I talked about AT&T’s plan to make microcell (a.k.a. femotcell) technology available to […]

  2. pb2010 says:

    I drove two hours to buy an ATT 3g Microcell in the San Diego California pilot area which I heard about by accident. I installed it and ATT refused to turn it on for weeks because I’m outside the Pilot area. They finally turned it on 12/3/2009. I have no service at home without it. With the AT&T 3g Microcell the service is still spotty with a little cajoling I can get it to work. I frequently miss incoming calls. In the morning I have to dial and dial again to get it working. It eventually will.

  3. Gatekeeper says:

    >I also wonder how broadband providers
    >would feel about AT&T offloading traffic
    >onto their networks without providing any

    They shouldn’t care, right? I mean, it’s not their bandwidth anymore, they’ve sold it to the customer, who can reutilize it however they want. It shouldn’t make a difference to them whether the customer is using it to surf Facebook, or download apps to their phone.

    Unless of course the ISPs had oversold their networks, but we know they wouldn’t do that, right?

    • Jeffrey Blattman says:

      well … they sold it to the customer, not to AT&T, and not for AT&T to run their business on. you can view it that AT&T is making money by running their business on the ISP’S network.

      if AT&T came to say comcast and asked them if they could use their network for free so they can make more money for themselves, i am sure they’d say no. just because they (AT&T) has come up with a way to distribute their use of the comcast network across customers’ private internet subscription shouldn’t make a difference.

      of course i’m just speculating. i always assume the worst behavior from big businesses.

  4. teach5 says:

    Bought a microcell (for $200 additional dollars!), in Octoer of ’11 to fix my terrible service problem. It helped somewhat. I have many periods each day of ‘no service’ messages on my HTC Inspire. Calls are dropped throughout the day, and I get voicemails left because the incoming call couldn’t be received. We dropped our landline years ago, so this is our only phone. We have been dealing with many ‘techs’ from ATT who repeatedly lie to us, telling us they’ve re-registered us with a new tower. Uh-huh.
    Time to report this scam to my attorney general’s office. I’m done with AT&T.

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