iPhone users like me are fond of trashing AT&T. For good reasons. For several years my wife and I have paid a hefty monthly fee for the "privilege" of getting crappy (basically, unusable) cellular reception in our home.
So we've got cell phones which will barely make telephone calls when we're not out and about.
Not a huge deal, since we have a landline, but irritating. Sometimes I want to make a call when my wife is on the phone. Other times, someone who has AT&T and wants to use their phone has to walk up our driveway and search for a decent signal. Not a lot of fun in the cold or rain.
But AT&T brought a smile to my face last week when I opened the mail. A letter from the company started off with:
Thank you for being an AT&T wireless customer. We are very grateful that you have chosen us for your communication needs, and it is our privilege to have you as a valued customer. As a way of showing our appreciation, we would like to offer you an AT&T 3G Microcell at no charge.
The 3G Microcell acts like a mini-cell tower, boosting your bars and enhancing your wireless coverage at home. If you are not getting the signal you expect in your house, this may be the perfect solution for you; however, it is not intended for use in areas with strong wireless signal strength.
After reading this, my first thought was "Complaining pays off." Along with, "Thank you, Verizon."
Soon after we got our iPhones, I went into our local AT&T office and complained about our one-bar reception at home. An employee dutifully typed my name and address into his computer, thereby officially registering our dissatisfaction. I've also used AT&Ts Mark the Spot iPhone app to report our bad cellular coverage.
But somehow I suspect that competition from Verizon ("America's most reliable network") for iPhone customers led AT&T to finally get off its corporate butt and fix our coverage problem. So complaining probably is what got us noticed by AT&T, while Verizon's entry into the iPhone market stimulated the free 3G Microcell offer.
The gadget is working great. We now have five bars in most of our house, with four in the area farthest from the Microcell. Phone calls have excellent sound quality, much better than before.
It was simple to pick one up at our local AT&T store. I just have to give it back if we terminate our AT&T wireless service within 12 months. Since the 3G Microcell (made by Cisco) retails for $150, I felt good about that painless requirement.
The Microcell uses a broadband connection to tie into the AT&T network. Don't ask me how. (Here's some FAQs.) All I know is that the thing works as advertised. All I had to do was plug a cable into a router port and follow instructions for powering up the modem, router, and Microcell in the right order.
My main concern was whether the Microcell was close enough to a window to get decent GPS reception. This is necessary for 911 calls, which require your location.
No problem, though. After I activated the service online and connected the Microcell, within half an hour or so five bars had showed up on my iPhone, followed by "AT&T Microcell." Wi-fi reception on the iPhone was unaffected. So I'm a happier AT&T customer now.
I'll still be tempted to head over to Verizon when our AT&T contract is up. But that's less likely with our excellent in-home cellular coverage.
Moral for AT&T: Giving customers free useful stuff will help your retention rate. Next, how about free tethering for the iPhone?