AT&T's Femtocell

If you're already familiar with the femtocell offerings from Sprint and Verizon, you'll find the AT&T MicroCell is much the same. It's the same premise - calls and data from phones you specify are routed over your own internet connection. Except for one small distinction - AT&T's offers 3G HSPA/UMTS data up to 3.6 Mbits/s alongside voice, where the Sprint Airave and Verizon Network Extender offer 2.5G 1xRTT CDMA2000 data at 144 Kbits/s alongside voice. Of course, that means for the AT&T MicroCell to be useful, you'll need a 3G phone; the older GSM/EDGE only iPhone 2G won't see any benefit from AT&T's femtocell. 
It's interesting to note that virtually all of the major carriers in the USA now offer femtocells or similar means of expanding coverage. T-Mobile is the notable exception, which foregos a femtocell in favor of Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) - a 3GPP standard that allows the same cellular data to be sent over any IP network, most commonly over WiFi. Let's compare the offerings from all the major providers:
Carrier AT&T Verizon Sprint T-Mobile
Solution Femtocell - "3G MicroCell" Femtocell - "Network Extender" Femtocell - "Airave" UMA - "HotSpot@Home"
Branding Cisco Samsung Samsung NA
Technology 3G UMTS/HSPA for voice and data 2.5G CDMA 2000 1xRTT 2.5G CDMA 2000 1xRTT UMA voice over WiFi
Simultaneous Calls 4 Simultaneous 3 Simultaneous 3 Simultaneous NA
Standby Approved Callers 10 100 50 NA
Data Bitrate 3.6 megabits/s (HSDPA 3.6) 144 kilobits/s 144 kilobits/s NA
GPS Fix Required Yes Yes Yes NA
Upfront Cost $150.00 or $50 with $100 rebate and $20/month unlimited calling plan $249.99 $99.99 Wireless AP Cost
Hand-On/Hand-Off No/Yes No/Yes No/Yes Inter AP Handover/Yes
Coverage 5000 square feet 5000 square feet 5000 square feet WiFi AP range
Add Ons

$20/month unlimited calling

$10/month with AT&T DSL

$0 with AT&T landline


$5/month required 

$10/month unlimited calling - 1 line

$20/month unlimited calling - multi line

$10/month unlimited calling
While Sprint and Verizon are offering virtually the same Samsung-branded product, AT&T's MicroCell is a new femtocell bearing dominant Cisco branding. The same caveats apply here: the device needs to be able to get GPS fix, meaning you'll likely have to install it near a window or in the corner of your house. Also, the hardware supports handovers from the femtocell back to the main cellular network, but calls initiated outside of femtocell coverage can never migrate or hand-on to the femtocell. Range is advertised as being 5000 square feet, and the hardware is portable; you can take it on trips or to different places so long as you register the location online. You can also sell the device to someone else - it isn't forever locked to one AT&T account. AT&T stipulates that a 1.5 Mbps downstream, 256 Kbps upstream internet connection is required.
Recap: What's a Femtocell? Unboxing a Cell Tower
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  • dkapke - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    I can't speak for what AT&Ts plans are, but I think what a lot of you aren't seeing, at least in terms of Sprint, is I LOVE their femtocell. Not because I can't get service or have crappy coverage, but because it allows UNLIMITED calls. I can get their cheapest plan, eliminate the home phone, and so long as I'm not driving between 6a-6p all of my calls are free. I work from home so this is great.

    So, all of you saying this is AT&Ts method of uncongesting their network - yes, that's true. But you're missing a very valid argument FOR these - unlimited calling. I guess you have to determine how often you're at home and how many minutes you use at home before night/weekend calling kicks in, but for those of us who work from home, these are awesome and well worth the $20. Oh, and when my kids come down for the summer and spend all day on the phone while they're sitting around at the pays for itself very quickly.
  • echtogammut - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    They even collaborated with AT&T on this one :

    Seriously, what really gets me about this, is I installed a booster for the last company I worked with because they were not able get calls when more than 5 data phones were in the building. I called AT&T to see if I could work with them about setting up a device similar to the microcell and they transferred me to an engineer that warned me off boosting the signal. Not that long ago they called me and offered this device to fix my reception issues and charge me for another service plan... no thank you, the booster is working fine.
  • kamikaze56 - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    I agree with all you guys saying that you wont pay for a monthly cellular bill, buy your own "cell" wich uses YOUR own internet connection.. But just remember a few facts:

    - First of all, this device is aimed to people who have very low to zero coverage on their house/workplace and DONT want to change carrier (Or cant due to contracts), it is not aimed to people who can change their carrier at anytime..

    - Second, most of the "negative" review on this article was found on location 1 (Location in urban area, with a really good coonection, crowded spectrum etc) remember, this device is aimed to locations with Zero to Really bad coverage

    - 3rd and most important: Yes, you are paying your bill, you are paying by your own cell and using your own internet connection but remember, you are just using like 1/50 part of your connection in order to REACH THE CORE NETWORK, what happens in the core network and forward its still being done by the carrier (And this part of the communication process is the one that costs more), so your basically paying for using this core network. If you dont agree with this.. DONT BUY IT
  • kidboodah - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    There seems to be a misunderstanding on the pricing of this.

    You pay $20 a month for unlimited minutes while connected to it. This includes up to 4 simultaneous connections.

    So let's say you have a 1400 FamilyTalk plan, with 4 lines. That's $109.99 per month normally. Add the Microcell and you have Unlimited talking from home for $129.99 for all lines.

    Compare this to an Unlimited Family Talk plan for $70+50+50+50....and you're saving $100 a month.

    It's definitely worth the initial cost for alot of customers who are on Family plans and want unlimited service from home -- while ALSO giving them full signal strength.
  • taltamir - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    there is no such thing as a radius in square feet.
    Square feet is used to describe the area.
    Since the area of a circle is Pie*r^2 then ((5000 ft^2)/pie)^0.5 = r
    or a radius of 39.89 feet
  • Brian Klug - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    Oops, that's a typo! Fixed!

    -Brian Klug
  • Ardric - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    The TCP and UDP ports you've listed are only used for provisioning, when the device boots. They don't carry the voice traffic. There's no use in bothering with them. Especially HTTPS -- do you really want to elevate that for your banking site too!?

    The voice traffic is on the IPsec tunnel, and that's carried by the ESP protocol. ESP is IP protocol 50. There's no port number.

    So ignore the TCP and UDP ports and prioritize on ESP, preferably in combination with the particular AT&T IP addresses. That's how you should set up your QoS matching.
  • Brian Klug - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    You're totally right about the provisioning ports being used only for initial setup, but the device is using IPsec NAT-T, which is definitely 4500/UDP.

    To be honest, all my QoS rules prioritized the device in general - I'd say doing it with a static DHCP lease IP address or MAC addy makes the most sense.

    Brian Klug
  • SmCaudata - Friday, April 2, 2010 - link

    With T-mobile I have UMA on my phones so I can make calls anywhere I have a wireless signal. I don't need an extra box in my home AND I can use it in the deepest basement of my work.

    AT&T sucks. The iPhone is the ONLY thing they have going for them.
  • leexgx - Friday, April 2, 2010 - link

    at any time did you use 2g only (set the Phone to 3g off) as i find 3g/HSDPA mostly unreliable (more so on the Iphones not so much on windows phones with HSDPA off) problem is most phone makers set the Hand over to GSM or 2g for there phones to low and i find 3g has more problems with weaker signal (if should move to 2g when signal is below 20% back to 3g when above 35%, as when 3g gets to less then 10-20% it seems to be unreliable)

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