AT&T 3G MicroCell to offer unlimited iPhone calling for $20 extra

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
AT&T customers who live or work in one of the company's many pockets of poor or dead 3G service will soon have the option to pay $20 extra to obtain unlimited calling over 3G using their own Internet access.



AT&T hasn't yet set a retail price on its forthcoming new 3G MicroCell appliance, which connects to your existing Internet to supply local 3G voice, SMS/MMS, and data coverage for nearby AT&T customers. However, a report by Engadget Mobile attributed to an anonymous tipster says that the company plans to offer an unlimited calling plan for users for $20 per month.



Bundled with AT&T-supplied Internet (if available in your area), the monthly fee drops to $10, and with AT&T Internet and landline service (if you also pay to have one of those old plug-in type phones), the monthly fee goes away entirely.



It's not clear if the monthly fee for unlimited wireless calling through the device will be mandatory in order to obtain the 3G MicroCell device. According to the photo of official looking marketing collateral included in the report, "3G phones connected to the MicroCell without AT&T Unlimited MicroCell Calling continue to use existing plan minutes."



If unlimited calling is entirely optional, iPhone 3G and 3GS users may be able to buy and install the 3G MicroCell and simply use it to burn their existing plan minutes without paying any additional monthly fees, solving dropped call or delayed SMS issues for users working inside shielded buildings, for example.



Even if obtaining the device requires the additional unlimited calling plan, users may end up saving money by cutting their existing plan minutes and placing most of their calls from their home or work location. Current iPhone service plans with AT&T cost $60 for 450 daytime rollover minutes, $80 for 900, $100 for 1350, or $120 for unlimited.



In either case, other AT&T users who access the MicroCell to place 3G calls, texts or access mobile data will not be charged any differently than if they were to use a regular 3G tower; they will simply eat up their existing plan minutes.



The 3G MicroCell does not create a VoIP alternative to AT&T's network; it simply tunnels 3G voice and data over the user's existing broadband Internet service to AT&T's servers, which process it like any other call handled by its existing 3G cell towers.



AT&T's 3G appliance isn't usable by 3G mobile users on other carriers, nor does it provide GSM/EDGE service usable by the original iPhone model. It will work with any 3G-capable sold by AT&T, however. It's not yet known if the MicroCell supplies the standard 3.6Mbit/sec HDPA service typical of AT&T's current towers, or if it supplies the faster 7.2 service supported by the iPhone 3GS.



Due to broadcasting regulations, users will also be prevented from using the 3G MicroCell in areas where AT&T doesn't officially do business. For example, it can't be installed by users in Vermont or North Dakota or in other countries outside the US; this is enforced by GPS tracking in the device.



Other mobile providers already sell similar "mini cell tower" devices, commonly referred to in the industry as a femtocell, either solely to provide service where coverage is missing or to allow customers to provide their own pipe for unlimited mobile calling. For example, Sprint sells its Airave for $5 per month, or with an unlimited calling plan that costs $10. Verizon sells a femtocell for its 3G users with no monthly fees, but does not provide any unlimited calling option.



T-Mobile provides unlimited calling through its [email protected] service, which costs $10 per month. However, rather than being a 3G femtocell that program uses UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), a 3GPP standard for placing mobile calls over WiFi. Unlike femtocells, which work with existing 3G phones by emulating a regular cell tower, UMA requires special hardware support to be built into the phone in order to place calls wherever WiFi service is available.



AT&T is expected to begin rolling out 3G MicroCell devices to users in a limited number of markets over the next couple of weeks, following an extensive beta testing period. Hammered by the iPhone's voracious data demands, AT&T's 3G mobile network has been criticized as severely inadequate by many high profile critics and plenty of frustrated users.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Due to broadcasting regulations, users will also be prevented from using the 3G MicroCell in areas where AT&T doesn't officially do business. For example, it can't be installed by users in Vermont or North Dakota or in other countries outside the US; this is enforced by GPS tracking in the device.



    Yeah, typical. Yet another newfangled 'offering' where everything is in the fine print. Gee, this one will take off......
  • Reply 2 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post


    Yeah, typical. Yet another newfangled 'offering' where everything is in the fine print. Gee, this one will take off......



    Um, that fine print isn't AT&T's... its prob. the FCC/FTC. Still, AT&T doesn't operate at all in two states??? Who the heck operates in Alaska but not Vermont?



    If you can outright buy this, and not be forced into a monthly unlimited contract, I just may be tempted to install one in my office at work (which is in the basement) depending on the price. I have no need for it otherwise...
  • Reply 3 of 63
    Last to the party and the most expensive too...



    Nothing like paying extra to fill in for poor service where there is supposed to be service.



    I would think that providers would give these things out like candy for free. Think of all the money they would save because of the reduction of people calling to complain about poor coverage...
  • Reply 4 of 63
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,656member
    What does the device itself cost?



    If, as the article thinks is possible, they don't charge any monthly fee for not using the unlimited plan, that's not expensive. Why would someone think it would be?
  • Reply 5 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by clexman View Post


    Last to the party and the most expensive too...



    Nothing like paying extra to fill in for poor service where there is supposed to be service.



    I would think that providers would give these things out like candy for free. Think of all the money they would save because of the reduction of people calling to complain about poor coverage...



    This is $20 per month, right? I would prefer to pay for the device and then have my minutes used when going over internet instead. (I think Verizon does it this way)
  • Reply 6 of 63
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,656member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Dorotea View Post


    This is $20 per month, right? I would prefer to pay for the device and then have my minutes used when going over internet instead. (I think Verizon does it this way)



    Read the article again, it discusses that possibility, as well as a $10 a month service, and a free one.
  • Reply 7 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by clexman View Post


    Last to the party and the most expensive too...



    Nothing like paying extra to fill in for poor service where there is supposed to be service.



    I would think that providers would give these things out like candy for free. Think of all the money they would save because of the reduction of people calling to complain about poor coverage...



    I agree. Why would I pay for this? If I didn't get good service, I would switch to a company that does provide service at my house and work. What is interesting is if the GPS could be hacked and allow you to use the phone internationally with the microcell.
  • Reply 8 of 63
    AT&T should give these things away, and allow unlimited talk at no additional cost. It would reduce strain on their network, which they should be MORE than happy to provide for free. It creates an incentive to subscribe, entices those of us who are "stuck" with them to stay on board, and hopefully would also help network performance by offloading much traffic to the internet pipe.
  • Reply 9 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by floccus View Post


    Um, that fine print isn't AT&T's... its prob. the FCC/FTC



    I did not say the fine print was ATT's.



    That said, I misunderstood the point in the article - if it is only a couple of states, it is, as you say, not an issue.
  • Reply 10 of 63
    Is AT&T nuts?
  • Reply 11 of 63
    Why can't AT&T allow iPhones to operate over wifi with built-in voip? People would be able to use their phones in remote locations where service is unreliable/not available and it would reduce strain on their network considerably.
  • Reply 12 of 63
    I have the opportunity to pay an extra $20 per month to cover the fact that AT&T's service sucks in my area. Quite a business plan... maybe soon we can pay extra at a restaurant so the chef doesn't sneeze on our meal. Steve Jobs, are you watching what your business partner is doing with your great product??
  • Reply 13 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by philweb View Post


    Why can't AT&T allow iPhones to operate over wifi with built-in voip? People would be able to use their phones in remote locations where service is unreliable/not available and it would reduce strain on their network considerably.



    I've been wondering why ever since the iPhone came out. It seems like the most sensible way to go.
  • Reply 14 of 63
    I'd doubt the FCC and FTC actually let this option stand for long.



    Mafia:

    "If you want to make sure that we don't accidentally break all of your windows, you can give Mr. X a low fee of $20 per month. Oh, and if you sign up for another 'protection plan' you'll get a $10 discount."



    AT&T:

    "If you want to make sure you have service that you've already paid for, you can give Mr. X a low fee of $20 per month. Oh, and if you're already paying us for a redundant internet access plan to supplement your cell phone's unlimited internet access, you'll get a $10 discount."
  • Reply 15 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by philweb View Post


    Why can't AT&T allow iPhones to operate over wifi with built-in voip? People would be able to use their phones in remote locations where service is unreliable/not available and it would reduce strain on their network considerably.



    This service is called UMA, and it is offered by T-Mobile USA. The iPhone doesn't support it nor does AT&T.



    UMA allows your phone to access the same core network, over WiFi instead of 3G.
  • Reply 16 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by retroneo View Post


    This service is called UMA, and it is offered by T-Mobile USA. The iPhone doesn't support it nor does AT&T.



    UMA allows your phone to access the same core network, over WiFi instead of 3G.



    Thanks, I didn't know that. Still seems like AT&T could make a Skype-like app for use in one location, a cottage for instance, where people aren't moving about and switching between 3G and wifi.
  • Reply 17 of 63
    Oh when will the horror of the plundering and pillaging ever end. The hawking savagery beset upon the gullible masses is so disgusting to witness first hand.
  • Reply 18 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    Read the article again, it discusses that possibility, as well as a $10 a month service, and a free one.



    That's only if you have an ATT land line going to your house. If you have another provider, like Verizon, you're stuck with the $20 rate.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by midtownomahaboy View Post


    I'd doubt the FCC and FTC actually let this option stand for long.



    Sounds like the FCC is mandating this restriction. The cell phone frequencies are licensed and controlled by the FCC. If ATT doesn't hold a radio license for those frequencies in that area than they can't use these frequencies.
  • Reply 19 of 63
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by aresee View Post


    That's only if you have an ATT land line going to your house. If you have another provider, like Verizon, you're stuck with the $20 rate.





    Sounds like the FCC is mandating this restriction. The cell phone frequencies are licensed and controlled by the FCC. If ATT doesn't hold a radio license for those frequencies in that area than they can't use these frequencies.



    I'm sure the FCC is not mandating a fee for the service. The concept of the device and even the plan makes sense but only if this intended for really remote areas where you wouldn't expect service. Otherwise its only hurting the company's rep further.
  • Reply 20 of 63
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    I would look at this as an absolute last resort, where you decide you must use an iPhone despite poor signal rather than switching service providers. Before this, I would suggest trying a cellular repeater. It's still an expense that shouldn't be necessary, but at least that way, you are still using AT&T's infrastructure rather than letting them piggyback on your internet service while also giving them money for that favor. I would hope that this system operates in a way that it controls QoS such that heavy internet use doesn't interfere with the call quality.
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