My iPhone 4 (and 3G Microcell) Tale of Woe, Part II

| Analysis

Last week, I reported on how a new iPhone 4 and an older iPhone 3GS both got new, ported numbers from T-Mobile. That completely hosed up the 3G Microcell management account, and the 3G Microcell went off the air. On Monday, everything was fixed thanks to AT&T.

On July 13, I told the story about how, when my original AT&T wireless number went away and was replaced by a ported number from T-mobile, it launched a tale of woe.

3G Microcell

AT&T 3G Microcell

AT&T moved heaven an earth to fix this problem for me. It was a complicated affair to reset the 3G Microcell account with a new primary number, and that’s something AT&T apparently hadn’t planned for in its 3G Microcell administration. It turned out I wasn’t the only customer in that fix.

AT&T originally told me on July 13 that it would take a few days to remedy this, so when things weren’t back to normal on Friday, I called wireless support. Because I asked for it, the tier 1 support woman graciously gave me a US$25 credit for my iPhone being off the air. (Recall, I live in an area with no usable AT&T signal, hence the Microcell.) Also, the store manager at the AT&T store in Lone Tree, Colorado had previously given me a full refund on the Microcell, US$150, as a customer retention benefit, so I had a total of $175 credit applied to my wireless account. I was very, very pleased about all that.

Apparently the brick on the front of my house makes it difficult for my 3G Microcell to get a GPS lock, even though it’s right next to a window. It needed most of the weekend, sitting in the window sill, to obtain that necessary lock, so that time was well spent.

On Monday morning, I got a text message from AT&T that all was well, but it wasn’t quite. (It’s a miracle the text message got through given my reception issues.) I didn’t have that magical 3G light on the Microcell glowing, indicating that it was radiating and I didn’t have the “M-cell” indicator on my iPhone 4. So I called the number they had given me.

This AT&T team, near Modesto, California, looks to be tier 3 support. They have direct access to the Microcell management servers. The representative told me that all the old data was cleaned out, and I was ready for a fresh start. She had me reboot the Microcell and re-activate it. That only took five minutes, and once powered up, the Microcell synced and the 3G light was glowing within 15 minutes. (The previously obtained GPS lock had held between power cycling.)  Sweet.

I can see how changing the base number for the account might throw the Microcell servers for a loop, but I wish AT&T had planned ahead for that, knowing that a lot of new iPhone 4 customers would be coming online in June, right after the 3G Microcell had shipped for the first time. Even so, I was pleased with how AT&T handled the affair. Every rep I talked to was courteous and helpful. I was given ample credit. The tier 3 team near Modesto, CA did everything humanly possible to deal with the ticket and got me back on the air fairly quickly — given the likely technical difficulties at first. They were great.

Props to AT&T for its customer support.


For those interested, here’s the link to my original review of AT&T’s 3G Microcell.


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While AT&T certainly deserves credit for responding well and successfully dealing with the problem, I think that some of AT&T’s great service may be due to the fact that it is good to be John Martellaro.

John Martellaro

Nemo: All through this process, I never revealed that I am an editor with The Mac Observer.  I’m sure the tier 3 team, busy as they are, had never heard of me.  (Who has anyway?)


I have the microcell and it is great. I live in a valley in Maine where the nearest tower is 11 miles away. The microcell has allowed me to cut my land line down to local only. Combined with the lower data rates my combined home and cell bill have gone down considerably.


Phone support people are just like you and me, they respond to reasonable requests articulated in a calm way in kind, it motivates them to do what they were hired to do and go above and beyond to make customers happy. But when people call angrily to complain and accuse, however legit, and if they lack technical language to describe the issue clearly, the results are usually poor for both sides.

John Mitchener

I seem to have heard of you somewhere in the distant past. I seem to remember you had some reasonable knowledge of computers and software. smile


The people! Explain me a difference between simple iphone verizon, 3g, 4g I think now to order in American what at present is better?


It amazes me that the Femto-cell never took off until they changed the name to Micro-cell.  An actual micro-cell might fit in your front room, they are quite a large cabinet sized affair.

Anyway, O2 trailed femto-cells in the UK and decided that because of problems like these that they wouldn’t be worth releasing to the general public.  Then last year (I think) Vodafone released their own femto-cell.  This is a shame, because I’m stuck with O2 and they seem to be the network with the worst coverage in the UK.


It?s as if AT&Ts; website developers never expected a 3G Microcell customer to change the wireless number.

Actually, they did, there?s an easy way to do just that, however the chronology you chose in changing your number either wasn?t considered (unlikely) or perhaps couldn?t/doesn?t work for some reason.

Clearly, the correct way to do this process has not been made obvious to MicroCell owners, nor have all CSRs been taught to ask/check to see whether a MicroCell is attached to the master number prior to porting in a new number to the primary line.  At the very least, if the chronology cannot be changed or automatted on AT&T?s end, MicroCell owners should be made aware of the need to deactivate their MicroCell prior to number changes and porting on the MicroCell’s admin page, and CSRs should know to check if a MicroCell is in use.  Otherwise, as you have unfortunately learned, they?ll to be stuck when the master number/primary line does NOT automatically transfer to the MicroCell, as happens with your online account management login credentials.

Here?s the correct way to do this this process:

BEFORE porting your number, log into the AT&T MicroCell ‘Settings? webpage.  At the top of the first page, below your device?s serial number and other status/account info, click on the handy link: ?Disconnect Your 3G MicroCell Device?.  Confirm your intentions on the next page and your MicroCell will be immediately wiped and disconnected from the current primary number for your account. 

Now port the desired number to the primary line.  Once that is done and you can make/receive calls, check to be certain that you can access your AT&T online ?My Wireless? account management page with your new mobile number and current password.  If that works, go to the ‘Set up and activate 3G MicroCell’ link on AT&T’s main MicroCell page and then register/setup your MicroCell just as you did before.

Using the method above I successfully decommissioned our MicroCell, ported in a new primary line number, and was back up and running in under an hour.

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