Better home cellular coverage with AT&T's Microcell

New devices enable better cell coverage and more flexible use of wireless plans

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Let's have a quick show of hands of all of you that don't have any home landline phones anymore. Yes, just as I thought. I can see many of you under 30-somethings have given up on landlines and just use your cell. The problem with this is that when you are home, you can consume a lot of minutes of talk time, particularly if you are around during the work day when those minutes count towards your plan.

AT&T has been working on what they call the 3G MicroCell, a device that you hook to your broadband network. While you are in range, several hundred feet from the device say, all of your cellular calls get routed through your broadband network and so don't count towards your cell plan minutes. You just pick up your cell and make the calls. You'll need a current 3G cell phone to work with these devices, according to one source.

They are the last of the four major cell carriers to offer such a device. Sprint's AIRAVE and Verizon's Wireless Network Extender have already begun to sell these devices on their 2G networks, , while T-Mobile's Hot Spot@ Home has dual-mode handsets that run on both Wifi and cellular frequencies. Sprint charges $100 for the base station and $15 a month for unlimited usage. Verizon's cost $250 with no monthly fees. The rumors are AT&T plan will either offer a fixed fee of $150 for the device with rebates offered to people who sign up for various calling plans. The cool part about the AT&T device is that it can carry both voice and data traffic, so if you have iPhones you will get better throughput on your data apps running on the phone when you are at home. Another cool feature is that if you start a call at home and leave while continue talking, you don't get docked any minutes even when you migrate out of your home broadband and back on the cell network.

Currently, the AT&T MicroCell is only available in Charlotte, NC. The other devices are available around the country in the carrier's service areas. Still, if you just have your cell, they might be worth investigating and you might be able to get by on a cheaper wireless plan.

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