Can you hear me now? Now you can.

A pair of AT&T first generation MicroCells. The one on the right is activated.
A pair of AT&T first generation MicroCells. The one on the right is activated.

AT&T cellphone coverage on the Big Island is abysmal unless you’re living in the shadow of one of their cell towers. I’ve had bad coverage in Holualoa, terrible to non-existant coverage in Hawaiian Paradise Park, excellent coverage in Glenwood and now that I’m in Hilo, which is the biggest town in the county, terrible coverage.

I finally caved and bought an AT&T MicroCell (actually a femtocell). This device connects to a broadband connection, either a cable modem or ADSL modem, and acts like a mini cellphone tower routing voice calls over the Internet. AT&T used to give out free ones to people in areas of poor coverage but they don’t consider Hilo to be a poor coverage area despite it being a poster child of why folks should switch to Verizon Wireless. And despite the fact that you’ll be using your own bandwidth for calls over the MicroCell AT&T still counts those minutes against your plan, shysters.

New MicroCells cost about $150, those are the second generation models, but you can find first generation MicroCells on Ebay for $70-$100 fairly easily. So I bought one for $95 off Ebay. But there’s a catch with the MicroCell, it has to be deactivated from the owner’s account before someone else can use it. The seller of the MicroCell I bought assured me I could activate it but this didn’t turn out to be true so it’s more of a paperweight. But they did refund my money and I was able to buy another deactivated MicroCell for $80. So that’s why I have two, a working one and a stunt-double that doesn’t do anything.

In the photo below you’ll see the difference in signal strength before and after MicroCell set-up. So hopefully I won’t be missing so many calls and text messages anymore. Also since I’ve got five bars of coverage my cellphone won’t be blasting at full power trying to grab onto the cellphone tower outside while bathing my head with radio waves.

Cellphone signal strength before MicroCell (top) and after (bottom). A full five bars of strength using the MicroCell.
Cellphone signal strength before MicroCell (top) and after (bottom). A full five bars of strength using the MicroCell.

One Reply to “Can you hear me now? Now you can.”

  1. We had one of these devices for years on the mainland. It was provided gratis by AT&T since the cell coverage at our backwoods home was nonexistent. Surprisingly, we had fiber Internet available. Apart from the occasional outage that required reboot, it worked flawlessly and drew little power. Sometimes, when coming back into range we would have to toggle our phones in and out of airplane mode in order to register the M-Cell signal.

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