Thursday, December 24, 2009

3G Microcell

The AT&T 3G Microcells are for sale in San Diego, and coincidently, we're down there for the holidays. I went to one of the stores that was selling them, and despite being told we were from out of town, they were happy to sell us one. Registering it online was simple, although it did take about a half an hour for it to complete its setup and become active. During that time, you can't help but wonder if it is going to succeed. It needs to get good GPS reception before it will fire up. But once it did, the coverage at our parents' house was quite good upstairs. It was a bit more spotty downstairs, but once we get home I am fairly confident that the coverage should fill our smaller house. The web page at the AT&T site that manages the microcell allows you to put multiple physical addresses in and pick which one is the active one. You must put an address in, and the device's GPS will verify that it's accurate or it will refuse to work.

Normally you'd install the microcell someplace where you already have WiFi, so the fact that the microcell does 3G data is kind of moot. There are some points of interest, however, that make pondering the trade-off worthwhile. With WiFi turned off, I get a fairly consistent result from speed tests: a little less than 1 MB/sec down and about 60 Kbps up. WiFi here at my parents' house in San Diego gets easily 5 MB down and 2 or 3 up (their cable modem service is amazing - like, 15 MB down and sometimes 5 up). However, with WiFi, you're typically behind a NAT, and if you use 3G, you get a public address - even though you're using the microcell. Of course, apps that require local connectivity, like the iTunes remote app, won't work through the microcell because of that (you'll have to use WiFi).

I've made a number of calls through the microcell now, and they all sound as good as a cell phone can get. When we get back to Santa Clara, the uplink bandwidth will be a bit more constricted than it is here, but given that Vonage works ok, I would think the microcell will work just as well.

Update - 12/27

We got back tonight. Before leaving San Diego, I powered off the microcell and changed the address on the unit to our home address here in Santa Clara. When we got back home, the microcell took about a half an hour to come back up. When it did, we got the activation text message again, just like after the first activation. As I predicted, the coverage is just what I had hoped - 5 bars throughout the house and all around our property. Unfortunately, there is no unlimited minutes offer outside of the test markets, so we're not getting any breaks on our plan minutes. But hopefully that will change when the nationwide rollout starts. I suspect that the various test markets are really about testing the price points for those plans rather than any technical issues.


Anonymous said...

Oh brother... I hadn't heard about these microcells so I'm glad you blogged about them. Great, not only do we have to worry about the neighbors creating WiFi interferrence in our homes but we now have cell phone microcells interfering with each other as well.

Yeah, let's continue to push people into using poor quality cell phones. Just the other day I had to tell someone to hang up and call me on a real phone because I understood about every third word they were saying on their wonderful cellphone.

And we can't forget the story KTVU did recently about the growing evidence of cell phone's causing various tumors in the body. Oh, but the cellphone industry say's this is nonsense and there is no evidence. LOL.

Nick said...

So, I don't normally respond to people who don't sign their name to what they say, but the anonymous 'tard above raised some points that need to be answered.

1. There is no danger of interference with these devices, since they provision themselves totally at the direction of the cell phone companies. They know where they are located (verified with GPS), and do not enable themselves until and unless they have a clear frequency on which to operate. That's why they take up to 90 minutes before they start working - they are coordinating with HQ and "sniffing the air" to insure the channel is clear before activating. As for cell phones sucking, deploying a microcell for your home is certainly a fix for that, I can assure you.

2. Let's assume, just for argument's sake, that you're right about cell phones causing injury and/or illness - despite there being absolutely no actual scientific evidence to back that claim up. Deploying a microcell in your home will allow your phone to reduce its power quite a bit because the cell site (in this case, the microcell) is so nearby. Since the cell phone can operate with lower power, you'd have to admit that the potential for injury would be reduced. As an actual benefit (that's other than ludite pseudoscientific bullshit), reduced power actually results in longer battery life for your phone while it's using the microcell.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you work for a cell phone company...

Well it's your blog, I'll give you that, so if you want to spew this sort of tripe then be my guest and have fun.