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AT&T expands 3G MicroCell trial to five markets

AT&T announced this week that in addition to its Charlotte, N.C., test market, the 3G MiroCell hardware is now available in select counties in Georgia, South Carolina, San Diego and Las Vegas.

Customers can visit the AT&T Web site to find out if they are eligible for the device, which improves cell phone reception in potential trouble areas.

The hardware blankets a 5,000 square foot area, about a 40 foot radius from the device, to provide voice, data and text service coverage in areas that might otherwise be a "dead zone" for cell phone reception. The hardware supports up to four users making simultaneous calls, and up to 10 on 3G standby available for incoming calls and messages.

Last year, Charlotte, North Carolina was the first test market for the femtocell device, which provides 3.2Mbit/sec 3G service from the home. In order to support that bandwidth, the device must be connected to an appropriately fast broadband connection.

It was expected that AT&T would expand its 3G MicroCell service to other markets in 2009, but until this week availability was limited to Charlotte. In that test, the device was said to cost $150 and carried no monthly fees.

Not included in the short list of test markets thus far are New York City or San Francisco, both of which have been notorious problem areas for the AT&T network, particularly with heavy-bandwidth devices like the iPhone. However, even without the deployment of the 3G MicroCell, one test revealed this week found that AT&T's network speed improved 84 percent with strong reliability as well — a major improvement over a similar study done last spring.