5 bars with AT&T 3G MicroCell

My office is located in a part of our small town where AT&T’s coverage has always been a problem. Three of us have iPhones and whenever anyone would get a call on our mobiles we’d sprint to the outside deck where we had the best chance of catching a wayward signal.

Low Signal

So when AT&T announced in April that they were going to start their nationwide rollout of their 3G MicroCell devices, I was ready to jump on board. If you have followed at all the news and discussion of this solution to AT&T customer woes, you’ll no doubt have read people’s anger and frustration about paying themselves to solve AT&T coverage problems.  I will not address this other than to say it was worth $150 to us to have our phones work reliably in our office.

AT&T’s horrid Flash-based MicroCell web page offers to take your email address and notify you when the devices are available in your area. I signed up with two email addresses but never received any news, indeed I read on AT&T’s customer forums that other users never received emails about MicroCells coming available either so I kept checking back from time to time. One day out of the blue the availability checker didn’t give its usual “sorry, not available” response, instead it said they were ready for purchase! Hooray!

AT&T 3G MicroCell box

AT&T 3G MicroCell box

I called my nearest AT&T store and they said they had the MicroCells in stock, so I went to pick one up. Purchasing a MicroCell is like purchasing a cell phone: it takes way longer than it should. And since the MicroCell is a new thing for them, it took even longer to go through the buying procedure.

There seemed to be some confusion between the two sales people and the store manager who were working on my order about the zip code and address the system was showing for where I was going to install the device, because our business’ mailing address is a PO box and not our physical address. But they said they got it worked out.

Eventually I was out of the store and I unboxed the pretty little thing at the office. Installation is easy: ethernet connection to our network, power and it must be installed near a window for GPS reception. AT&T warns that activation can take a couple of hours so after I completed the online activation steps and set everything up near a window I left to let it simmer. Eventually I received a text message from AT&T warning me that my activation had failed.

Activation Failed

I searched the web for similar error messages and while I didn’t immediately find anyone with error 103, I did find people experiencing error 102 which apparently meant that the address provided on the activation web site didn’t match the physical location of the MicroCell. I did try calling AT&T but since it was a Saturday they were closed, real businesses don’t work weekends. Maybe errors 102 and 103 were related? I checked the address on my account for the MicroCell and sure enough, the three AT&T team members setting up my device at the store did indeed enter my PO Box, which has a different ZIP code than my physical location. I changed the address on the web to reflect where the MicroCell was installed and soon after I had an activated 3G MicroCell!

5 Bars

This was all well and good, my iPhone showed five bars and I could make calls from corners of the office never before possible. But I didn’t want this box sitting on my desk near the window, I wanted it hidden away in the server room. I tried moving it after it was activated but it didn’t work, when the MicroCell restarted it could not get a GPS signal so it didn’t enable itself. Time for some GPS antenna action.

Information on the web about using GPS attennae with the AT&T MicroCell is scarce, and the info I did find was rather inconclusive about what to get. People suggested that the antenna port on the MicroCell might be an MCX connector, and one post I found a guy reported getting an antenna meant for a Garmin, so I followed that reasoning in purchasing from Amazon…

The nearly 30 feet total these three would span would be enough to put the GPS antenna on the roof of our building and meet the MicroCell in the server room. Fingers crossed!

Thankfully it worked great. The AT&T 3G MicroCell is happily sitting in the server room, seeing its GPS stars in the sky and providing us with much more reliable phone service.

Device In Server Room

Apparently the three phone numbers on my AT&T account were automatically added to those granted access to our MicroCell, and I only needed to add one more phone number for a contractor who works here so he could also use our 5 bars.  Adding the additional number was easy to do through AT&T’s web site.  Up to ten numbers can be added to the permission list and up to four calls can be made at a time through it.  All in all a worthwhile endeavor for us.

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