AT&T CTO: Subsidizing 3G microcells won’t fix our network

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AT&T’s 3G microcell, which uses your home internet connection to improve your cellular reception, isn’t the savior for the company’s beleaguered network that some may think.

Speaking at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit today, AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan said the company hasn’t pursued subsidies and other methods for getting microcells in more homes because they don’t fix the underlying problems with its network.

Instead, AT&T has focused on improving its infrastructure over the past few years — to varying degrees of success.

I asked Donovan why AT&T decided to increase the price of the microcell to $199 from $149 in January when it should be getting cheaper, but he gave me a non-answer, saying that different regions have different offers for the microcell. Calls to several AT&T stores in New York confirmed that the microcell is now selling for $199.

The company has also reportedly been sending out more free microcells to users facing connection issues, but Donovan didn’t say anything on the matter.

After another audience member brought up the microcell topic again, Donovan finally opened up a bit more. He said that microcells create a wall between AT&T’s network and the user’s home network, something that also introduces increased issues with RF interference.

The best place to use the microcell is where a user gets no AT&T reception at all, he said. That philosophy goes against how other companies approach femtocells (the broader category that AT&T’s microcell fits in), as they’re generally considered to be an inexpensive way to improve networks in low reception areas.

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