Despite the fact that I live in a burgeoning metropolis with a clear view of San Francisco, the cell reception at my home is embarrassingly unreliable. For this reason, and this reason only, I'm forced to maintain a landline. This makes me the ideal customer for something like AT&T's MicroCell device, which is currently being tested in the Charlotte, NC area.
The MicroCell device is basically a personal 3G transceiver that an AT&T wireless customer can use to reroute 3G wireless traffic over a broadband Internet connection. The MicroCell provides a coverage area of up to 5000 square feet and can support up to 10 mobile devices with up to 4 concurrently. Calls begun outside of the MicroCell area can be shifted over when they're within range, however the reverse is not true. Some people, including the folks over at Gizmodo and ZDnet seem to think that since this product essentially corrects a deficit in AT&T's network, the communications giant should offer the device for free.
Though I'm tempted to jump on the current AT&T hate train, I think the people rallying against AT&T are wrong. When it's offered in my area, I'll be among the first to sign up. There are two pricing models. In one, you purchase the device for $150 and your monthly bill remains unaffected. The alternate model gives you a $100 rebate on the adaptor and you pay an additional $20 a month which includes unlimited domestic calls from within the range of the MicroCell. As much as I hate to miss a chance to bash AT&T (I got plenty of reasons, believe me), this pricing scheme strikes me as reasonable.
For just the hardware, $150 is a fair price. Nowhere in your contract does it dictate free MicroCell hardware if you live in an area with poor reception. While I think an additional monthly fee that has no added value would be exorbitant, the $20 that AT&T wants to charge you includes a service that would be valuable to many. AT&T probably needs to charge the extra fee to make up for all the people who may drop their wireless plans down a notch once all their at-home domestic calls are inclusive. Additionally, people like me who will cancel their landlines, will quickly find additional value in the service.
Of course, one of the things this trial is supposed to test is how customers react to pricing models. AT&T could end up charging a monthly fee just to use the MicroCell. If this happens, you can add my name to the list of haters. See AT&T's MicroCell site for more information.
Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.