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AT&T 3G MicroCell Site Live: Home Base Station Boosts Spotty Coverage

Illustration for article titled ATT 3G MicroCell Site Live: Home Base Station Boosts Spotty Coverage

AT&T's 3G MicroCell uses your Internet connection to act as a mini 3G tower—something iPhone users in particular have waited for. And after reports it could arrive in select locations this week, AT&T is now providing (some) details:

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Illustration for article titled ATT 3G MicroCell Site Live: Home Base Station Boosts Spotty Coverage

You can register up to 10 phones (3G models with AT&T accounts) to work with the device, but it only supports four simultaneous calls or data sessions. It has a roughly 5000 square foot range, and calls originated from it are automatically handed over to AT&T towers once you leave the house/office.

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The MicroCell page also confirms an unlimited calling option where domestic U.S calls made using it won't deduct from your regular minutes. Problem is, AT&T hasn't coughed up what the pricing will be. An apparent leak over the weekend suggested it could be $20 per month ($10 if you have an AT&T Internet or landline service; free if you have both). No word yet on how much the device itself might cost.

Travelers will be sorry to hear that, as with Sprint and Verizon did with their femtocell units, AT&T's device has a GPS chip, so it can't be used out of the country. For that reason it's recommended to be placed near a window.

You'll need to have a net connection of at least 1.5Mbps down/256kbps up, and find your ZIP code in the availability checker at the site. Please let us know if you find your area is listed.

Also See: Should Users in Known Dead Spots Get the MicroCell 3G Free? [AT&T 3G MicroCell Site | 3G MicroCell Manual (PDF) | via @bugdave]

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Illustration for article titled ATT 3G MicroCell Site Live: Home Base Station Boosts Spotty Coverage
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DISCUSSION

ANY unit like this is going to have some sort of interlock to prevent use outside of the carrier's coverage area. It's not just a radio receiver - it's a radio transmitter, and unlike a cell phone, it doesn't rely on existing cell towers to work.

Using a radio transmitter without a license is an $18,000 fine in the US, and so it's incumbent on carriers to know that the unit is being used in an area covered by their authority to transmit. The FCC hands these fines out pretty regularly, too.

If there was no GPS interlock, and if you took this thing to, say, England, and tried to use it there, you'd almost certainly get fined by the British government. Likewise, if you took it to an area in the US where AT&T doesn't have a license to transmit, it could cause interference with existing cellular services, and that would probably get both you and AT&T in trouble.

Of course, I can imagine lots of activation trouble for people with offices or apartments that aren't near windows. The windows in my house have metal in them, and they quite effectively block the frequency range used by GPS. (My XM signal goes from 5 to 0 bars by just closing the window.) Hopefully, AT&T will have a backup plan, such as using your IP address to locate you and override the GPS lockout.