AT&T And Femtocells: Customer Care Goes To H*ll
I think I’m beginning to understand the reasons behind long-time AT&T subscribers’ vitrol against the cellular provider:
And I think AT&T could stand to learn a few things from its iPhone hardware partner. Some of you might recall an editorial I penned in late January of 2009, wherein I criticized the carriers’ shrewd strategy of foregoing infrastructure build-outs by instead persuading customers to purchase home-based femtocells that leverage consumers’ broadband connections.
AT&T has such a device, the 3G MicroCell. And some of you might remember my recent piece, which discussed AT&T’s move to end unlimited-data plans in advance of the iPhone 4’s release. Well, as I’ve just learned, the 200 Mbyte or 2 GByte monthly bandwidth allowances (and substantial surcharges for use beyond those thresholds) apply even if the 3G MicroCell is being used. To be clear, AT&T is going to charge you $15 for each additional 200 MByte (on the $15/month plan) or $10 for each additional GByte (on the $25/month plan) beyond the plan ‘cap’, even for the data you’re using that never touches AT&T’s cellular network. Not to mention that they charge your cellular account for voice minutes over the 3G MicroCell, too, even though it’s using VoIP. Unbelievable.
Here’s the irony; I’m in the process of obtaining a femtocell of my own. As I previously discussed, Verizon’s coverage at my friend’s place is pretty poor, and I’m hopeful that the company’s Network Extender will improve the situation for my Droid. So why am I taking the plunge? Well, the current $99.99-after-rebate promotion caught my eye. It’s a one-time expense, not a monthly surcharge. And, to avoid any usage confusion, the Wireless Network Extender only works with voice traffic, not EV-DO cellular data.
If I want to surf the web or access email on my handheld, I’ll need to tap into broadband via Wi-Fi. Similarly, AT&T customers who own the 3G MicroCell could conceptually do the same thing. But if they’re anything like me with my iPhone, they normally keep Wi-Fi disabled while on the road in order to maximize battery life. And if they forget to turn 802.11 back on when going online from the handset at home (not to mention the ‘phantom data’ that doesn’t even have a Wi-Fi transport option)…well, I suspect that’s the exact scenario AT&T hopes will occur.
Followup: Here’s a review of AT&T’s femtocell from AnandTech, published a few months back.