Saturday, June 5, 2010

AT&T Microcell - work in progress

It's been a while now, and I have to admit that the Microcell has not gone as well as I would like.

You'll recall that the idea was that we could get rid of Vonage by going with the unlimited Microcell calling. By doing that, we could change the $25 we spend on the Vonage line into the $20 for the Microcell plan.

It turns out, that the potential savings is even better - we've already been able to down-shift our cell plan from the 700 minute to the 550 minute plan, saving us another $10. It turns out that between us, we only make about 200 minutes of calls per month that aren't to each other or from home.

But unfortunately, the microcell isn't yet functioning well enough to make me comfortable with shutting off Vonage.

1. Every once in a while you attempt to place a call and it just fails immediately. So you have to redial a couple times before it works.

2. Every, I'd say, 3rd or 4th phone call includes periods of time when the calling party sounds all garbled. You can recognize who they are, but it's as if they're speaking in tongues.

3. The microcell, even when it's working, introduces a good quarter second or so of latency. Much more than Vonage, and enough to cause conversational collisions that are awkward.

I've been in more or less weekly contact with an AT&T engineer for about the last month now. They're earnest and nice, but they're not really telling me that they've figured out what the problem is and how to make it better.

Now, let me just spend a moment to explain to anyone who might suggest that our Internet connection might have any impact on how well (or not) this gizmo is working: The Microcell's internet connectivity is truly the best possible scenario possible in a residential setting. Really. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest. We have AT&T's best DSL offering - 6M/768K (yes, there are higher bandwidth connections you can get, but their latency and jitter are not as good. And once you have more than about 64 kbps in bandwidth in each direction, the needs of a VoIP connection are met anyway). I've programmed our DSL router to use traffic shaping to give ports 1 and 2 priority over ports 3 and 4. Ports 1 and 2 have the Microcell and Vonage boxes plugged in, and 3 and 4 have and our Airport Extreme. If I create a very large uplink load, like a speed test, I can observe the latency on ports 3 and 4 rise into the hundreds of msec, but the latency on ports 1 and 2 only go up by 10 msec or so. So the traffic shaping is working. In addition, we have a block of static IP addresses, and both the vonage box and the Microcell have public IPs without any sort of firewall in front of them. There really cannot possibly be any better scenario unless you plugged in a Microcell in at a datacenter.

And I'm not alone, apparently. These same symptoms have been spoken of by other folks out there on the Internet and in AT&T's own customer forum.

This is the problem with being an early adopter - one winds up effectively being a guinea pig. It was like this with the DirecTV DVRs too - it took them almost a year before they were reasonably usable - and we weren't even the first folks to get them.

I am still holding out hope that they might fix it. Of course, hoping is all I can really do.

1 comment:

BC said...

I concur. Vonage works great for us; Microcell is inferior. In fact, the mcell is now interfering with the Vonage connection. The ATT engineer said our 12Mbps download 2Mbps upload wasn't good enough! Ha! It works beautifully with Vonage. Also, the MCell just isn't reliable enough. It frequently drops calls. Our Vonage service never does.