Monday, September 21, 2009

AT&T asks consumers to pay more for better cell coverage

AT&T has been the brunt of many complaints from all over about poor cell coverage in certain areas.  I don't know how many times I've read someone saying they would love to get an iPhone but won't because of AT&T's coverage.  Now I actually haven't had too many complaints and have been a PacBell/AT&T/Cingular/AT&T customer for some time.  Perhaps I'm just lucky or not picky enough.

For those that do perhaps have poor coverage near their homes, AT&T is now offering a "personal cell" you can install at home.  Called the MicroCell, it is a femtocell device that is supposed to boost 3G signals indoors, and a phone is supposed to be able to switch to/from it and the regular 3G network.  It is nice that AT&T is doing something to help customers in poor reception areas, but that is where the kudos stop.

First, the way it works is that the femtocell ties into your home internet connection to get to AT&T's network, effectively routing your cell phone connection over your cable/DSL/FiOS connection.  Sounds nice, but if you were going to make calls over your internet connection why not just use Skype or some VoIP provider like Vonage and avoid the hassle of another device?  You say you want to receive incoming calls?  Fine, get a Google Voice number and give that out instead of your mobile number and use it to route incoming calls wherever you want!

Second, while the femtocell (it is a fun word to say so I'm writing it a lot, go ahead, say it out loud 5 times in a row) will give you a stronger signal at home, if you are indeed in a poor reception area, once on a call, you are stranded at home as the call will drop if you leave the range of your femtocell.  So it is really no better than a cordless phone at home and see the Google Voice suggestion above to handle the incoming calls.

Third, they are charging $150 for the device.  Ok, they say there is a $100 rebate, ... IF you sign up for a $20 monthly plan!  So let me get this straight.  I'm already paying nearly $100 a month or more for my voice and data plan, another $50 plus a month for high-speed internet, and because the former doesn't work well you want to use the service from the latter to "fix" it but want to charge me for equipment and another $20 a month on top of that?!

Before piling on too much, it is just a trial right now and pricing when they roll it out could change.  And AT&T shouldn't be singled out as both Sprint and Verizon are reportedly doing the same thing (not but with 3G speeds, so give AT&T credit there!) and are probably subject to the same criticisms above.

So give them credit for identifying a solution for a common problem, just as a consumer don't give in to paying more money on top of what you are already paying.  There is other technology that can leverage what you are already paying for to help solve the problem.

Thoughts?  Agree or disagree?

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