AT&T Boosts Network Coverage with Free MicroCell…For Some

by Matt Klassen on January 24, 2011

Last April I wrote a piece covering the release of the AT&T microcell, a portable in-home device designed to act like a mini-cellphone tower to help shore up holes in AT&T’s notoriously spotty network coverage. But at the time there was a notable catch, if you wanted to finally experience AT&T’s blazingly average 3G network speeds you were already paying for, well, you’d have to pay a little more.

But in light of the recent unveiling of the Verizon iPhone and the ongoing rollout of Verizon’s infamous 4G network, just two more reasons for disgruntled AT&T customers to think about switching carriers, AT&T has decided that its time to up the ante. AT&T, in its infinite wisdom, has not decided to improve its network coverage in well known problem areas, it has not decided to upgrade to its own 4G network (yet), instead, its turned back to the microcell mini-tower released early last year and decided to offer it to customers in problem areas for free.

Truth be told, if the story ended there, offering a free microcell to customers to hard to reach network blind spots seems like a really good stopgap solution. Sure its not actually improving AT&T’s network, but it’s a close second I would say. But as with every altruistic act in the business world, there’s a catch. You have to be in AT&T’s predetermined worst coverage areas to be eligible.

I’m sure initially this story looked to hold a faint glimmer of hope out for those AT&T customers who have had to endure poor network coverage, shoddy customer service, and binding long term contracts. But even if you’re one of the disgruntled masses, you still may not be eligible for AT&T’s new free microcell deal.

The company has announced that it will offer these free microcell’s to the top 7.5% of customers receiving the worst reception on AT&T’s network, as defined by the company’s own ratings. That means, if AT&T thinks your cell reception is good—regardless of the reality of your situation of course—well then you’re simply out of luck. For those that AT&T knows experience horrible network coverage, well, perhaps you can be happy that your plight has not gone unnoticed.

So your network coverage is terrible, perhaps now you’re thinking you can head down to your nearest AT&T branch and plead your case, demonstrating to the helpful staff just how poor your coverage is. Sorry to say, that won’t help either, as eligible pre-selectedcustomers will be mailed a microcell voucher in the mail. If you don’t get the voucher, you don’t get the free microcell.

Further, AT&T has attached the proviso to the offer that all pre-selected customers need to agree to keep their contract with the company for at least one year, with stiff penalties that include the purchase price of the microcell if customers should want to leave early.

The fact of the matter is, though, with the average American iPhone users paying upwards of $130 a month to use their iPhone on a shoddy network, they shouldn’t need to utilize these network boosters. Frankly, it still amazes me that out of all the companies in America that offer in-home wireless boosters—and all major carriers do—that AT&T unfortunately remains the only network that seems to need them to actually function properly.

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