Is a Microcell Worth it?

Nicholas Jones | May 17, 2018

 

This is another frequent question from our email in-box. The short answer is “It depends entirely on your situation.”

If (a) your weak-cell-signal conditions are such that you would benefit from a microcell, and;

(b) your user requirements don’t run afoul of the technical limitations of a microcell; then yes, a getting a microcell (also known as a femtocell) would be worth it.

But if either (a) or (b) are not suitable for a microcell, then it clearly would NOT be worth it for you to get a microcell.

So to help you analyze your situation and evaluate suitability for a microcell, let’s review how microcells work and take a look at their technical limits.

How Microcells Work

A microcell is essentially a low-power source of cell signal. When connected to a router it works with a broadband Internet connection to typically deliver cell coverage to between one and three rooms of your home. Some carriers even have their own microcells they offer like the AT&T Microcell.

Some enterprise-level microcells can provide a cell signal to an entire building.

Cell traffic – voice and data – travels over your service provider’s network and gets delivered to the microcell by an Internet gateway. The microcell and your cell phone communicate directly, so signals from your phone are sent back to the Internet gateway.

Consumer-level microcells have a typical signal range of about 50 feet. Most can handle up to four or five simultaneous phone connections. Enterprise microcell models often support 12 or more connections simultaneously.

Advantages & Disadvantages of a Microcell

A microcell’s big advantage over other cell-signal-boosting systems is its capability to create an indoor cell signal, even in places where there is no detectable ambient cell signal anywhere nearby.

To create a cell signal like that, a microcell must be connected to high-speed Internet. If you don’t have a broadband Internet connection for a microcell to connect with, a microcell won’t work for you.

As you can imagine, with a microcell employing your broadband Internet connection for its operation, it will compete for network bandwidth with all other Internet-connected devices.

If your router, your Internet connection and the available network bandwidth aren’t up to the demands of your connected devices – including the microcell – you could find data services like streaming video are interrupted. This could also cause your cell phone calls to have poor audio quality.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a microcell works for only one specific cell carrier – yours. If family members, roommates or visiting friends use a different carrier than you do, the microcell won’t do anything at all to boost their cell signal, even when they’re in range.

A microcell also requires that phones must be logged in to the microcell in order to use the cell signal the microcell produces. Any phones not sync’d with the microcell – even those on the supported cell carrier’s network – are not allowed to use the boosted signal.

Something else to remember – a microcell works indoors only. It can’t be used as a cell booster in a vehicle.

In my opinion, here’s the biggest disadvantage to using a microcell in your home or office. If you happen to move out of microcell signal range, the device doesn’t always “pass-off” a connection to the cellular network seamlessly. Instead it may just drop your call.

When you’re on a call, your cell connection is passed seamlessly from tower to tower as you move. That may or may not happen with a microcell. OK here’s what I’m talking about.

Say you’re at home in the morning about to leave for work. Your boss phones your cell for a quick briefing on a meeting you and she are scheduled to attend as soon as you arrive at the office.

Just then you hear a car horn and so you dash out to your carpool. As you go out the door, you leave microcell range. Here’s the critical question – Will the cellular network now accept the hand-off of your connection from the microcell? Or will your boss’s call drop?

To keep that connection, the microcell must pass the call over to the nearest cell tower. It may work just fine. Or the microcell and the tower may NOT work in concert, so the call drops.

So back to our title question, “Is a microcell worth it?”

Well, if your situation fits the circumstances we’ve described here, then absolutely yes, a microcell is worth it. If not, then you probably should avoid it.

Recap

A microcell –

  • requires a broadband Internet connection;
  • creates a cell signal indoors;
  • competes for bandwidth with other connected devices;
  • works for one specific cell carrier;
  • must be sync’d with a phone in order to boost signal;
  • connection “hand-off” with the cell network is a question mark.

 

Wanna learn more about other cell boosters? Click below.