The AT&T Micro-Cell : How to improve your cellular service in your home or office

We’ve landed on Mars again. Another milestone has been reached. We can now send a roving robot to Mars, communicate with that robot, even send files to it and receive HD quality video from it. It’s fantastic. What’s more amazing though, is that some of us can’t use our cell phones in our homes, or along certain stretches of Sunset Blvd, or on the subway in New York City. (Cell phones do work, however, on the metro in Paris). Apparently there is only so much technology can do. Mars, sure – Beverly Hills? Uhm … not so much.

Ta-dah! Enter the Micro-cell. (Cue the balloons)

If you have broadband internet in your home, you can now add a “mini-cell tower” to your list of gadgets. Once installed and configured, the Micro-cell will finally allow your cell phone to work in your home, out by the pool, and perhaps in your kitchen. It’s true, you’re paying to improve service you’re already paying for, but let’s be pragmatic. Do you want to be able to use your cell phone in your house reliably, or not? The device is the size of a model spaceship, something similar in shape to the star fighter that Darth Vader escaped in at the end of one of the many Star Wars sequels. Plug this puppy directly in to your router, place it near a window, and after an hour or two, you should have your very own cell signal available within 50 or so feet of the device. Once  the Microcell has acquired its GPS signal while near a window, you can unplug it and move it to a more central location in your house.The setup is fairly simple. If you’re an AT&T customer, you can go to a local AT&T store, and pick up a unit there. Currently the cost is about $200 plus tax. When the micro-cell was first introduced a few years ago, it was offered in promotions to help the idea take hold. Frankly it also didn’t work quite as well. But now that demand is up, promotions are hard to find. Micro-cells are private, meaning only subscribed (programmed) cell numbers will be able to connect to it. Your guest will not be able to use your mini cell tower in your home unless you’ve added his number to the list, even if his phone is with AT&T. This means that you will have to program it when you first install it. Or, you can call someone like us, and we can do it for you.
The instructions for the setup are straightforward, and the cables are even color-coded (black for power, yellow for internet connection, and so on). The only difficulty you might encounter is when it’s time to log in to the configuration website. We’ve experienced a few hiccups when the Safari browser didn’t seem fully compatible with the AT&T webpage. But recently, those hiccups appear to be resolved, and setup has been quite simple. You’ll need to setup an online account with AT&T wireless, then log in, then follow the step-by-step instructions for entering each cell number you’d like to allow access for. Note that up to ten numbers are allowed, that they must be AT&T cellular numbers, but not necessarily all on the same family plan. In other words, the whole family can be on the list, as well as the housekeeper, the gardener, and boyfriends or girlfriends, poker buddies and the like, as long as all use AT&T.
Once the setup is done, you should see the 3G or 4G symbol at the top left of your iphone screen change to “M-Cell”, with full bars available. Keep in mind that you are NOT circumventing your calling plan when using the microcell. Quite to the contrary. If you’re not on an unlimited calling plan, your minutes will be deducted at home just as they would be if you were walking down main street, chatting happily away. In our experience, the microcell works quite well. Out of perhaps 80 installations we’ve done, when NO service was available in a home prior to installing a microcell, only one client has had some difficulty receiving the M-Cell Signal.  We’re thinking their unit might be defective, and are preparing to exchange it with AT&T. (To AT&T’s credit, they are very responsive and helpful in that regard)
Now the safety issue. As many of you may have heard, there is an ongoing debate over the safety of cell phones, or more specifically, the cellular signal. The last thing many folks want is a mini cell tower planted in their house. (The actual size is not large, so “tower” is more of a metaphor here). They not only refuse to have a cellular transmitter, like the micro-cell, in their home, but they block any efforts to add cell towers in their neighborhood. This explains why some of the most exclusive residential areas, like Beverly Hills, have the worst cellular service. No one wants a cell tower in their backyard. Why? Besides the eye-sore, there is a real concern about the microwaves that are transmitted from such towers, and such devices.
As the technology is relatively new, and has also become so ubiquitous, people are nervous. Cigarettes were once touted as a healthy medication to fight asthma, and EVERYONE seemed to smoke back in the 50s and 60s. Many of those chain smokers are now dead, and we’ve since learned that inhaling smoke is a bad idea. So too, people say, is holding a cellular phone to your brain for extended periods, day after day, month after month, year after year. I can’t argue with that. I too try my best to avoid holding the cell phone near my head. Instead, I opt for either a headset (not only for driving), a speakerphone, or some other hands-free, phone-away-from-my-brain option. All one has to do is leave a cell phone near a speaker or stereo system to realize how powerful and constant those cellular signals care. The interference on sound systems is loud and clear.
But does that mean a microcell poses a health risk? The industry of course says “no”. My pragmatic approach is that we are already bombarded by all sorts of signals in the course of our daily lives, from the microwave in the kitchen (if you have one), to the WIFI throughout your home or office, or your neighbor. I don’t recommend installing a WIFI transmitter, or router, in a bedroom – as the signal IS strong by design, and you wouldn’t want something like that next to your head for a third of your life. Indeed, it has been shown that infants are especially sensitive to such transmitters, and that the signal can be disruptive to their sleep cycles.
Studies in Europe have also drawn alarming conclusions, but they refer to cellular phone use, not the cellular signals produced by transmitters or microcells. At the end of the day, we’ve drawn the following nuggets of useful information from our array of sources, personal experience, and opinion. We have not conducted any scientific or medical research, and are certainly not experts on the complex technology involved in providing cellular service. It would appear the experts themselves cannot agree on the risks of cellular, or whether any risk even exists. Having said that, to make everyone’s lawyers happy, we have an opinion on this that us feels based in some common sense.
1. Never let a child hold a cell phone up to his or her head. Their craniums are still developing, and may be considerably thinner (and thus more vulnerable) than adult craniums. No need to stream cellular signals into their still developing brains. Not a good idea. If they must use a cell phone at any given time (to say “hi” to grandpa, for example, use the speakerphone, or a headset. IF your child has a cell phone, make sure the exclusive headset use is a condition of keeping the privilege. (Yes, I know, they’re texting 95% of the time)
2. Guard yourself as you would your child. Avoid putting a cell phone next to your own head. There are several infamous cases of celebrities who died of brain cancer, and whose families contend it was due at least in part to prolonged use of a cell phone against the head. Always employ a headset when using your phone, or use some device (such as the hands-free system in your car) to make and take your calls. By the way, if you drive while using your iphone, be sure not to wear both earbuds. In California, it’s against the law. Only one ear-bud allowed while driving.
3. Avoid those fancy-looking (fairly ridiculous) bluetooth wireless earpieces people tend to wear when dining in a restaurant. You’re essentially inserting a powerful transmitter into your ear canal, in very close proximity to your brain! Does that sound like a good idea to you? In our opinion, it’s not.
4. If you cannot receive a reliable cellular signal in your home, and you rely on your cell phone for bringing home the bacon, keeping in touch with your under-age children, or some other critical need for decent communication, spring for a micro cell. It really does make ALL the difference. Just install it somewhere central to your home, perhaps in a closet under a stairway, far away from your bedroom (remember, no transmitters next to your head). If you’re REALLY concerned about prolonged exposure to a cellular signal in the home, reduce that exposure by installing a timer on the power supply. Those timers available at your local hardware store control lights, and anything else electrical, including the power supply to a microcell. Remember that it could take as much as 20 minutes for the thing to power up completely, but you could program the timer to go on at 8:30am, and off at 5pm, for example. It’s really up to you what you’re comfortable with.
5. IF you feel you shouldn’t have to pay for an extra gadget just to improve service you’re already paying for, I hear you. Try calling AT&T customer service, and state your case. Perhaps you’ll find someone sympathetic who will cut you a deal. Anything is possible. Keep in mind that you will NOT be improving cellular connection for your community. The micro-cell only allows the numbers you’ve programmed into it to connect. So unless you’ve programmed your neighbors cell into your micro-cell, you won’t be improving his reception one bit. Micro-cells are private transmitters.
We really like the Micro-cell. Clients love it too, once it’s installed. Several have resisted these last two years they’ve been available, but now with cellular replacing landlines, smartphones dominating the market with all sorts of cool apps and functions, the micro-cell has become a real necessity for remote areas (especially in Beverly Hill, and we suppose, on Mars).
If you think your sensitive to wireless signals, don’t get one. If you have one installed, and it doesn’t do much for your reception, return it. AT&T has been very good about returns with us.
With the pressure from the competition, we’ve noticed AT&T going to great lengths to hold on to their customers. They want you to be happy. There is still room for improvement, in my opinion, but overall I have to say we’re satisfied with the service we get. Over the years we’ve learned where the “black holes” of cellular communications are in this town, and we plan accordingly, as most of you have in your areas I’m sure. The micro-cell is not limited to AT&T, by the way. Verizon sells something similar. But since we use AT&T, we’ve limited the commentary to what we use.
If your iphone just won’t receive calls at home, check out the micro-cell. We think you’ll like the improved cellular signal. If you’re in the Los Angeles area and need someone to install it for you, let us know.  Our cell phones now work in the office, and we’ll be glad to take your call.