AT&T 3G MicroCell Review and Recommendations

The MicroCell is an interesting product. Some believe it is a product filling holes in a carrier’s network that shouldn’t exist. No carrier has blanket coverage and often even when there is coverage, it is worse indoors so it is nice that products like this do exist.  For $150, you can pick up an AT&T MicroCell from any AT&T store.  This is a cheaper option than some alternatives and worth consideration if you have little coverage at home or work.


Account setup is rather simple and done through a website.  You provide your address and phone numbers and that’s it.  You are limited to 10 phone numbers that can work through a MicroCell.  The good news is that it is locked down by phone numbers so your neighbor can’t use it.  Your address info is verified by GPS in the MicroCell during startup.  Unfortunately, this means the device needs to be near a window so it can get a GPS signal.  This is the oddest thing about it but apparently a requirement by the FCC.  If the GPS light does not come on, you need to move it closer to a window.  In some cases, you may need to try various windows at your house until you finally are able to get GPS.

Once you get GPS and are connected to your Internet, you can move the device as long as it doesn’t lose power.  This might be easy if are just relocating it in the same room.  If you are moving to an area with no windows, you’ll need a battery backup solution.  A cheap good option is the Tripp Lite Compact UPS.  Once you get GPS by a window, you can unhook the ethernet and move the MicroCell and UPS (uninterrupted power supply) wherever you like.  Of course, if you ever lose power for longer than your UPS can last, you’ll have to go through that whole process again to set it up.  This battery backup approach can make sense though because placement is very important.


AT&T claims a 40 ft range.  This is pretty decent and works out to an area of about 5,000 square feet, even more if you have 2 floors.  You’ll drop about 1 bar of coverage per major obstacle (like a wall) so to cover a whole house, you’ll want to put the MicroCell in the most central location.  Unfortunately, central often means no windows, hence the need for the UPS approach.

Even if you’ve got 5 bars and are sitting right next to the MicroCell, your call quality might be awful if your Internet isn’t good.  This is often the cause of any VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) issues and everyone’s assumption that their Internet is good.  To test the VoIP quality of your Internet, visit this VoIP test site.  If you don’t do well on those tests, you shouldn’t consider any VoIP products.

Assuming you’ve got good Internet and good bars, the MicroCell performance is very good.  You’ll know you’re connected because your phone will say something like AT&T M-Cell instead of just AT&T.  If you’re far from the MicroCell or have many walls between it and you, your performance may suffer so be sure to place it near where you expect to make most calls.  If you’re heavily using your Internet, streaming a video for example, your call quality may suffer if you don’t have your router setup properly.

Router Optimization

The MicroCell can go between your router and DSL/Cable modem but additional routers is rarely a good thing.  We recommend you hook the MicroCell up to your router so it can plug in anywhere on your network. We don’t recommend the use of a wireless bridge as wireless can be too sporadic for VoIP.  To optimize MicroCell performance, it should be given high priority in your router’s QoS (Quality of Service).  The MicroCell MAC address is on the bottom of the device.


Before the MicroCell, the best alternative was the zBoost YX-510 Cell Phone Booster.  This is around $300 and requires that you have some signal near a window or in an attic.  Coaxial cable is run from an antenna to the zBoost repeating antenna.


If you’ve got poor Internet but some outside signal, the cell phone booster is your best bet.  If you’ve got good enough Internet, the MicroCell is a cheaper and superior option.  You may not like having to pay for such a device but it is a one time fee that should simply make your AT&T phones work at home.

Snow Leopard Review

Snow Leopard

Snow LeopardThe latest version of Mac OS X is out, already with a system update available.  It costs $29 but you can find it cheaper at places like  Overall it is probably worth getting for most users but it is not without its troubles.

The Good

The behind-the-scenes components have been optimized to be far more efficient.  For apps that are designed to take advantage of the new OS, they are significantly faster.  For now, that mainly means Apple applications like Mail or Safari.  Boot time and resume time are also much faster.

There is a new dock expose feature where you can hold down on an app icon in the dock to see all of its windows only in expose.  This can be handy if you have a lot of open windows and only want to see those of a particular program.  This is one of the very few new features since this OS is mainly just background improvements.

Several of the OS enhancements are not being taken advantage of yet by third party application providers.  Once snow leopard versions of programs come out, the benefits will become far more prominent.  The new OpenCL feature is particularly interesting.  Typically your powerful graphics card is not doing very much.  OpenCL allows programs to perform calculations that would normally be done on the CPU to also be done on the video card.  For many tasks, this could result in massive speed improvements.  Only time will tell how many developers take advantage of this but it seems likely for the big developers like Adobe to do so.

The Bad

Besides Apple apps, most programs don’t seem much faster.  In fact, some seem a tad slower, probably in need of a snow leopard built version.  In the worst case, there are some applications that don’t run in snow leopard at all.  Some of the more notable ones are older versions of Photoshop or Parallels.

Since installing snow leopard, I’ve seen an odd behavior every few days where the transparent menu bar becomes opaque white and the system becomes quite sluggish for no apparent reason with no programs using up a lot of resources.  Only a reboot resolves things.  This is very un-Mac behavior.  This is an upgraded system that has been migrated from other Macs a few times so it is possible it just needs a fresh install of the OS from scratch but that just makes me feel like I’m using Windows again.  I’ve only seen this on one system, a current model Mac Pro.

Perhaps the worst thing about Snow Leopard is just that it isn’t a major change and there isn’t much obvious benefit besides some current performance improvements while waiting for programs to further take advantage.


Snow Leopard will probably be pretty sweet once there are more programs built to fully use it.  In the mean time, I do enjoy the fastest browser I’ve ever used and having my email pop up instantly.  You definitely can’t argue with the $29 price.  However, there’s really no rush for most users to upgrade.  Waiting a few months is probably more than fine so you can give developers time to make necessary changes.