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How to Get Five Bars on Your iPhone All Over Your House

John Federico

If you have an iPhone in the U.S., you won't be surprised to hear this: I love my iPhone but I'm not exactly happy with the AT&T Wireless network.

While it's an inconvenience to be out-and-about in New York City or San Francisco and not have cellular service, it's actually more of an inconvenience to be unable to receive calls when I'm in my home or office. I'm tired of the dropped calls and continually asking folks if I can call them right back from a landline (though the "landline" is usually Skype).

I finally decided to bite the proverbial bullet and go to my local AT&T Wireless Store to investigate the 3G Microcell. This is a device that you connect to your broadband internet connection and it acts like a mini cell tower in your home. According to the documentation it covers approximately 5,000 square feet.

I'd heard there was some special offer that mitigated a lot of the discomfort of paying for hardware to improve the service I already pay for. You can't learn about those offers online, though. For whatever reason, AT&T wants you to visit a retail store to learn more and complete the transaction.

Sure enough, the Microcell ended up costing me only $50 while my monthly bill remains the same. Here's the deal. 

  • Buy an AT&T 3G Microcell for $149.
  • Sign up for the "3G Microcell Unlimited Calling" feature for an additional $20 per month and you're eligible for a $100 rebate.
  • Send in your rebate form and your total out-of-pocket cost ends up to be only $50.

How did my monthly wireless bill remain the same? I switched to a family plan. 

We didn't have a family plan because it was easier for me to break out my business expenses when the lines were on separate accounts. So now I'll have to break everything out for accounting purposes.

By switching to a family plan, I saved $10/month on our unlimited texting and $10/month by sharing a block of wireless minutes, essentially getting unlimited calling in my home and office for the same amount.

Was it worth it?

You see that iPhone screenshot with the five bars and full wi-fi signal? That's my iPhone at the furthest point away from the Microcell. I can now make and receive calls without worrying about dropped calls. (Well, there may be dropped calls, but they won't be my fault.)

Admittedly, I also did my best to maximize the range of the Microcell. I installed it in the attic, increasing the range by reducing signal attenuation. I also happened to already have an antenna installed on the roof for a wireless repeater that sits in my living room on the ground floor. The Microcell and the repeater antenna are only 2 feet apart, so the signal from the Microcell is repeated and strengthened on the ground floor.

So far, the service is so good that I'm going to convince my wife to get rid of our landline which will save at least another $60/month.