Category Archives: Rants


or: The damn thing actually works

At some point while I was writing the last post, my AT&T 3G MicroCell did the completely unexpected, and started working. You might think that this would make me want to go back and tone down my previous tirade.

You’d be deeply, dizzyingly mistaken. To be honest, paying an extra flat fee for better signal quality doesn’t really bother me in principle. No matter how diligent a carrier is in deploying cell towers, there are going to be spots that for whatever reason don’t have a clear line of sight to a tower. (In my case, it probably has as much to do with the greenery outside my windows, which is actually one of the things I like about this place, as it does with anything else. Just a few yards toward the street, and in most spots along the South Bay, I have a reasonable signal.)

The root of my frustration with AT&T regarding the MicroCell is ultimately orthogonal to that, though. Its reliance upon GPS as the means of ensuring that the customer doesn’t use it outside of permitted territory is little short of insane. It’s a solution, as I wrote, of one problem that requires the solution of a needlessly and infuriatingly similar problem — i.e., “we’ll improve your poor 3G signal, provided you have a decent GPS signal.” It makes a unit that would otherwise be a godsend for people whose workspaces are for whatever reason underground, or deep inside a building, useless to them. It’s like selling a fire extinguisher that’s 100% reliable, as long as it’s kept away from flammable materials.

Past that questionable design decision, the thing’s user experience is just dismal. Easily one of the worst I’ve ever had. Don’t let its catchy white surface fool you — the thing is at heart a black box. No way of accessing its status or otherwise debugging it, other than patiently trying to scry the blinkenlights on its face and periodically power-cycling it in hopes that Something Will Change, “this time for sure”.

The support website, like I said, manages to rub salt into wounds by being intrusively irritating. “Hey, welcome customer! You paid us, and we’re still gonna subject you to promotional video.”

The silver lining in all of this is, or at least in my case was, the customer support line. The guy I spoke with was friendly rather than patronizing, and diligent about resolving the issue, to wit that my phone was not talking to the MicroCell even after all of the latter’s lights went solid.

I still don’t know exactly what the issue was, but it seems to have been at the far end — at some point, after multiple rounds of power-cycling both MicroCell and handset, the latter was suddenly able to see and communicate through the former, without my having tweaked a damn thing.

So yes, unless it lets out the magic smoke or otherwise shows signs of flakiness, I’m keeping the MicroCell, and will be closing my Vonage account in the not-too-distant future. No point in having two phones when one now works everywhere you need it to. But man, I hope I never bump into any of the people who designed the thing. I could not be held accountable for my actions.