Review: AT&T 3G Microcell

The AT&T Microcell went into test markets a little over a year ago and has been slowly rolling out the units nationwide earlier this year. In a nutshell, the Microcell uses your broadband/high speed internet access to connect your phone to the AT&T network. The result is having five bars of reception where you may have none.

There's been some criticism over AT&T Microcell polices that has overshadowed what the Microcell brings to the table. Some do not agree that AT&T should charge minutes and data used through the Microcell against your package minutes or data. There are also concerns that the hardware is priced too high.

While these concerns have merit, if you are in a location that has poor reception, the Microcell is a welcomed sight. The Microcell rolled out to my area recently and having poor signal coverage at the house, I jumped at the opportunity to get five bars of coverage.

Follow the break for more details on the installation of the Microcell and how it performs.

UPDATE: There is some relief for those concerned about the price. AT&T is currently offering a $100 mail-in rebate on the Microcell. The one catch (and you knew there would be a catch) is that you have to sign up for the unlimited voice package ($20 a month) to be eligible for the rebate.

What's in the box

The Microcell comes conservatively packaged with the unit itself, power cord, an extra long Ethernet cable and easy to follow set-up guides.

The Microcell was surprisingly large. Easily twice as large as my Belkin Wireless Router, the Microcell stands about 8.5" tall, 1.25" thick and 6.25" wide.

Completing the design, you have five indicator lights to the front and the connection/power ports to the rear.


Setting up the Microcell was easy and well laid out in the set-up guide. The Microcell does require a broadband/high-speed internet connection and set-up requires access to your AT&T online account manager (AT&T MyWireless Account).


Your first step is to go online to and start the activation wizard (found under the "Microcell Owner pull down menu).

You will then sign in to your online account manager and enter the Microcell's serial number, verify your address, verify the authorized numbers (secondary devices). You can authorize up to ten numbers on the Microcell with the primary number (main number on your wireless account) requiring the MyWireless account.  Only authorized numbers will have access to the Microcell.

From there you can either connect the Microcell directly to your high-speed modem or to your wireless router. Power everything down, wait a minute, then power everything back leaving the Microcell for last.

The Microcell can be moved to another location but you have to update your account information.  While it's not mentioned in the documentation, I would imagine that if the address registered in your Microcell Set-up conflicts with the GPS fix, the Microcell may not work properly.


After activating and setting up your Microcell, you have to initialize the device.  It can take up to 90 minutes for the Microcell to initialize, acquire a GPS fix (required for E911) and become active. AT&T recommends setting the Microcell up near a window to better improve GPS signal acquisition.

It took my Microcell just under thirty minutes to become active. AT&T will send you an automate email and SMS message confirming full activation. For those running stock ROMs, you'll see the "AT&T" read out on your phone change to "AT&T Microcell" once the Microcell is fully functional.


Without the Microcell, I could go to certain upstairs windows and get two bars of reception, otherwise I was lucky to get one bar.  The main level of the house yielded one bar consistently.  In the basement, reception was non-existent.

With the Microcell, I am getting five bars of reception throughout the upstairs and main levels of my house. In the basement, I am now receiving three bars of reception.

Call quality has improved as the signal reception improved. The signal is advertised as being up to 5,000 square feet. I can see the influences of the Microcell about twenty-five yards from the house and then the cell-tower takes over. The transition between the Microcell and cell tower is seamless.

I experienced no interference with my home wi-fi or cordless phone. While I can't explain it, it seems as if the Microcell may have slightly improved the wi-fi network's range.

The Microcell can handle up to four simultaneous calls or data sessions. Calls initiated through a cell tower do not transition to the Microcell. Strangely though, calls initiated on the Microcell will transition to a cell tower when you leave the Microcell's range. In these instances, if you're on the unlimited Microcell plan, you'll stay on the unlimited minutes plan and your regular minutes package won't be used.

A few things to remember

It bears worth repeating that the minutes you use through the Microcell go against your monthly package minutes. Any data fed through the Microcell will also go against your data package minutes.  The data aspect of this becomes a factor if you are on one of AT&T's new limited data packages.

AT&T does offer an unlimited feature for the Microcell that runs $20 a month. This feature gives you unlimited minutes through the Microcell. There is not a similar feature for data.

Also keep in mind that the Microcell is only for 3G enabled phones from AT&T. It is not compatible with the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, Que or GoPhone devices (can be used as secondary devices).

Overall Impressions

The AT&T Microcell isn't for everyone. If you're satisfied with (or can live with) your current signal reception, then you shouldn't bother with the Microcell. However, if your home or office location sucks wind with regards to signal reception, the Microcell is a good way to go about improving things.

Ideally, wireless providers would blanket their coverage areas with a consistent signal but with limitations created by topography, buildings, etc,  dead spots or low signal areas are hard to avoid. For such areas, the Microcell steps in to balance things out.

There is a savings aspect to the Microcell.  With an improved signal, you are more likely to use your Windows Phone for long distance calls as opposed to a hardlined phone.  The savings on long distance calls may off-set the cost of the Microcell.  If you've wanted to save money by canceling your hardline phone but have been hesitant due to poor wireless reception,  the Microcell resolves that issue.  The cost of a hardline phone may be greater than the $20 unlimited package, another potential cost savings.

AT&T's policies with regards to the Microcell could be better especially with regards to data usage. I would like to see AT&T internet subscribers receive the unlimited minutes without the need for a $20 package or the package rate be lowered significantly.  Free data would also be nice.

Regardless, if you need better reception at home or the office, AT&T's Microcell is the answer you're looking for.  Just go to (opens in new tab) and choose the "Availability" option to see if the Microcell has landed in your neck of the woods.

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!

  • This is the wrong way round. This takes an internet connection and converts to a cell connection. Instead a cell connection should provide an internet connection. Voice should work over any internet connection. Then if your cell connection is poor, just use wifi.
  • Why not just use Skype on your cell phone and save the $150. Skype costs like $2.99/month. $3 X 12 months = $36. 4 years of Skype service before you spend $150. And in 4 years that Microcell will be obsolete I'm guessing with new 4G.
  • For your office basement application, you'd do as well with a cellular signal booster. One time investment and no recurring charges.
  • This is also a one time investment and no recurring charges. The recurring charges only come into play if you opt for the unlimited voice plan.
  • I'm looking to use this technology to provide service to Physicians located in our basement surgery center. Do you have any insight on when / if AT&T will make this an enterprise compatible device. I also don't have GPS signal in the basement. A option for a fixed Lat Lon would be good.
  • I was thinking the exact same thing...the GPS requirement is a problem, plus I don't know if it would work through our network....part of me wants to just buy one, try it out, and return it if it doesn't work.
  • Reading from AT&T's TOS for the Microcell, "The address where the 3G MicroCell is physically located will be verified via the online registration process prior to use. If AT&T is unable to verify that the physical address of the device is located within an AT&T authorized service area, the 3G MicroCell will not remain in service." My guess is that if you loose the GPS signal, the Microcell won't work. I'll reach out to our AT&T contact to see if I can get clarification. I'll also ask about the enterprise device compatibility. Again, guessing, if it's 3g capable, then it will be compatible.
  • You can buy a GPS antenna and hook it to the Microcell. Although the Microcell unit has an AGPS antenna but the Microcell has option in the back to hook a GPS antenna to get a fix on the location. This can solve the issue of putting the Microcel in the basement.
  • So my question is this do you think if I hook this up when I travel out of the country to a broad band network will I get to make calls without being charged out of country fees?
  • Microcell will only transmit in areas where AT&T is licensce to operate. So, if you go out of country, the Microcell won't be able to transmit as the backend logic (inluding address verification) that is required to activate it will fail.
  • It is not a crock, I have had the verizon net extender (virtually the same thing) for 18 months. Before then, no cell company has ever had a decent signal in our black hole of a neighborhood. I just now have my first wifi capable cellphone so that was not an option. So, far, I do see an advantage to verizon, no extra data etc charge. If anyone were to feel they should get extra money, it would be the broadband company. Now, the big crock is why should we have to do this at all. All of the wireless providers make huge profits, they should invest in many more cell sites and give us value for the huge amount all of us pay.
  • Wow, what a scam. Just switch to Verizon.
  • Because Verizon phones works so much better in other countries? I really don't think that E911 would appreciate that if you call to say that your house is on fire, they find you're in Europe instead of your US registered location when they get there. And there are quite a few trolls here who think that their solution (e.g. use WiFi, just use Skype, get a signal booster, switch to Verizon) are the better solutions when, in fact, this is really the ONLY solution to getting an actual 3G signal where there is NONE. I live in a valley where NO provider's digital signal goes. A roof mounted booster had NO signal to boost, and Skype/WiFi is not an elegant, easy solution to being able to have people call, txt and voicemail me at the same number all the time. The 3G Microcell allows me to finally use my iPhone at the office, on the road AND at home. It's easily worth $150 where the booster set me back almost $500. Luckily, they work together now to practically double the Microcell's range. Dave
  • Verizon service is no the cure all. Their service is spotty in rual locations just as anyone elses is. I live less than a mile from a verizon/cellular south tower and none of their phones would send or receive calls at my house.
  • how can u say this is a scam? if u get to use your cell phone at ur home, then u don't get to comment unless u have a better product to point to. i tried skype, used the linksys CIT400 so that my laptop does not have to always be on. the phone is buggy and calls didn't always go through. why buy/try another skype phone for the same price as the microcell and then continue paying monthly for skype service. and skype is not just $3 per month, u pay much more than that to get ur own number that people can call u at. after u initially power up the microcell, u can move it away from a window and put it in a basement if u like as long as it's wired into a router or modem. for my wife and I to both be able to use are cell phones only now is worth so much more than $150. this product is well worth it.
  • You believe or not but the local AT&T shop had not even heard of the MicroCell, so I am not exactly holding my breath..
  • So you're charge for data pay for highspeed data every month. Wow.
    You're paying for data twice, when only using it once.
  • All the AT&T bashing aside I bought one and it is working flawlessly. I live in an area with overall bad cell service and this is working with both an IPhone and Blackberry. Yep, I had wifi for data but terrible phone coverage. In.out calls are great so it fixed my problem. Whine all you want BUT it will fix problems for manyu.
  • I give it a BIG thumbs up! I purchased one for my company due to the poor cell reception at our office. We have been using two very expensive cell repeaters that we purchased a number of years ago. Even with these repeaters our reception was spotty. I did have to purchase an amplified GPS antenna with a 25 foot cable ( $19.95 plus shipping) since our building doesn't allow GPS signals to penetrate. After setting everything up it took less than an hour for the unit to be activated. After a quick reboot of everyone's phones we now all have five bars throughout the office. No more dropped calls and no more support headaches. Also since we have a wi-fi system in place, data usage is not an issue.
  • WoW. Just another moneymaker for the cell phone companies. Yes, this is usefull in some situation. But most situations it's just a moneymaker. WHY buy this??? If your cell phone company is so bad that they dont have service in your area. YOU should invest in a new company and not buy this item. DITCH ATANDT if you dont get service
  • We are looking to buy one because we just moved into a newly developed neighborhood and live near a military base, we do get a bar or two and occasionally it jumps to 3 but it isn't steady at all. Since it's a new neighborhood I am stuck getting internet and phone service through centurylink who don't know their right from their left and with all their phone charges, taxes I am paying nearly 35.00 a month on top of the 50.00 I pay for internet. We live in a 3300sq ft home and our internet connection would be upstairs in the front of our home...we are mainly downstairs in the back of our home in our great room...will it work that far? Also what's up with the "line of site" do you just have to put it near a window...not pointed in any direction, and will thick window blinds mess with it's function? Thank you.
  • I just bought a 3G microcell and installed it this weekend. Although I only have a 1200 sq ft condo, once I step out on our balcony (only 20 feet away) it switches to the ATT tower. I currently have it located in my bedroom which is an interior room because that is where my cable modem and router is located. I do have live cable connections in other rooms but no modems/routers there.
    Would an external antenna help? If so, what do you recommend?
  • For a basement office installation of the ATT Cisco Microcell in Manhattan with access to a first floor courtyard about 50 feet away, what would you suggest? Do I need a GPS antenna of your recommendation or one not necessary? Thanks
  • I am the Project Manager for various High Gain GPS Antennas suitable for the AT&T Cisco 3G MicroCell mini tower. Our high gain antennas would significant boost reception of GPS signal, using various mounting solutions, starting at $19.95. Please feel free to contact me if we can be of help in any way. Thank you !
  • In August I am moving into one of the many notorious Black Holes on Whidbey Island, Washington. On the advance advice of my buddies at the Apple store here in Michigan this is the FIRST purchase I am going to make when I get there! Yes, it would be truly lovely if any one of the many available signal providers on the island would amp up their coverage to reach deep down into the hole my house is in, but that ain't going to happen, apparently. My options are 1. No Microcell - no bars 2. with Microcell - 5 bars. Hmm. Which one to choose?! . . . . .
  • If you need to buy a femtocell to increase your cell phone reception at home than you blew it!
  • If your cell phone has wifi built in, and you have a wifi router, would it ever need to do data over 3g?
  • Hi, Can anyone help me out with answering a question for me? Im not able to find much information about that online and Im hoping someone on here will know. I live pretty much in the middle on nowhere. But 3G is aval in my area, I have a 3GS iphone.. I get 1 bar sometimes if i stand at a window and sometimes in areas of the house, maybe 2 bars if im lucy. I can text most of the time but I have to make any calls outside. At&T sent me a letter in the mail saying there are giving me one for free? I called the store in my area and they really are. Kind of nice of them.. Anyway do u think this will be of any help to me at all. We are not able to get DSL or cable high speed internt out here grrrr.. but I have Wildblue ie Hughes net..and pay out a arm and a leg for that.. I just wanted to see if anyone would beable to offer some advise. Thank you
  • Unfortunately you will not be able to use the Microcell. The problem with Satellite internet is latency. It really is too bad since you are among the few that have received the offer for a free Microcell. Good luck.
  • Oh any one more thing to add to the above comment/Question. I live in the mountains, there is a cell tower less 2 miles away, but I guess with all the hill etc out home is not high enough to get a clear signal.. Is there any other whole house signal antennas that anyone can direct me too? Thank YOU so EVER much.
  • So in order to turn your original SIM card to new micro SIM card you have to ... 3G USB Modem, Any 3G Cell Phone, Laptop with card slot. thanks. ipad skin
  • Each microcell generally covers a radius ranging from 200m to 1km. .... 3G Mobile Phones - Desire of Future Generations ...
    keep sharing, ipad australia
  • I just got a credit on my bill because of the hell I have been thru with gayt&t so they gave me 200$ to go out and get a microcell to help cure up the dropped calls Ive had ever since I got their service.. I have several at&t phones.. a Samsung Impression , Jailbroken iphone 3g and a motorola backflop I mean backflip lol.. well The samsung works fine surfing the web.. but the iphone will not atleast most of the time go on the web via 3g thru the microcell.. I tested it with 2 other friends iphones and I swapped sim cards out of my iphone and put it in the android backflip... and still had the same problem.. no internet connectivity or very spuratic... phone calls were fine but just no internet... The samsung on the other hand not being a smart phone works just fine on the net... I called gayt&t and they told me it was a known issue and they are working on it.. Im telling you what I have had more problems with this company than you can imagine... if anyone else is having the same issue let me know and let me know if you figured out a temp fix for it or if at&t told you anything they didn't tell me... Thanks.... Abe
  • Hi, Can anyone help me out with answering a question for me? Im not able to find much information about that online and Im hoping someone on here will know. I live pretty much in the middle on nowhere. But 3G is aval in my area, I have a 3GS iphone.. I get 1 bar sometimes if i stand at a window and sometimes in areas of the house, maybe 2 bars if im lucy. I can text most of the time but I have to make any calls outside. At&T sent me a letter in the mail saying there are giving me one for free? I called the store in my area and they really are. Kind of nice of them.. Anyway do u think this will be of any help to me at all. We are not able to get DSL or cable high speed internt out here grrrr.. but I have Wildblue ie Hughes net..and pay out a arm and a leg for that.. I just wanted to see if anyone would beable to offer some advise.
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    Thank you
  • 5000 square feet of coverage correct? Square in 5000 are you get the result of 70.71067811865476. That means the range is approx. 70.710 covered 360 degrees all around from the center of the base.
  • Not quite. Taking the square root of 5000 assumes it is a square coverage area, and even in that case the base would be at the center of the square meaning you had 35 ft to each side. This will push out in radius from the unit, so it will be circular. A=(pi)*r^2. Your radius would be more like 39.89 ft from the base.
  • I have had huge problems trying to get the 3G microcell to work with my DSL modem with dedicated IP in my office. Even if connected directly to router it has not worked. Tech support worthless, unwilling to do remote session or send someone to troubleshoot.
    All lights eventually activate except for the actual cell bar signal.
    Any tips, or has anyone else had this problem? Fred
    Denver, Co.
  • Actually meant connected directly to DSL modem, not router. thanks, Fred
  • Not sure if anyone else noticed this, but this Microcell only work on my outgoing calls. My incoming calls actually got worse after installing the M-Cell. Considering returning.
  • Be wary of the cool aid here. There are some serious problems with the ATT MCell-this is an important caveat if you use a smart phone like the iphone or Blackberry. See the ATT bulletin board Basically, the Mcell does not handle smart phones with data packages and location services well. You will likely get annoying "stutter" in your calls, unless you turn off certain functionality on your phone. Even then, it can be a problem, but less so. I have this problem and was surprised with all the good feedback on the Mcell, I thought it was my internet connection jitter (20mb down 7 mb up-very high, but it is COMCAST which means quality can be low). No, hundreds of people have been reporting this same problem and have isolated it to smart phones and data packages. ATT has finally acknowledged the problem and says they are working on it. Basically their hard QoS settings and buffers can't handle the data load. ATT recommends turning off data functions to reduce the problem. Their first tier tech support will play dumb on the issue, and recommend returning-that is a waste, unless you want your money back. The problem is now well defined and no solution is presenting yet. You know what that means....take this thing back if you have this problem, it won't go away. I wished reviewers like these would do their homework.
  • I have a 3g phone with an older sim card. The mcell does not work (says sim card too old) put daughters new sim card in my phone, works great. AT&T wont upgrade my sim card without selling me a new plan w/2yr contract and more expensive. I think that's extortion.
  • the microcell works 100% but is very hard to find in at&t stores!! they sell out fast!!
  • I purchased a micorcell and could not get it to work for more than 5 minutes. Now I am on my second microcell, that too worked for 5 minutes. I have Qwest for DSL internet service, using the modem that Qwest provided. Great internet speed. ATT suggested there is a compatibility issue with the Qwest modem. They suggest change the modem. Has anyone else had this problem? Any suggestions regarding what modem would work best.