Talking tech since 2003

We’ve all been in those buildings that seemingly shut down our wireless devices to the outside world. The kind that you walk out of hours later, only to receive dozens of texts, app notifications, and missed calls. I like to call these “bunkers,” since they’re so impenetrable to the cellular signals we rely on, they might as well be built to withstand mortar attacks, as well.

While some only have to enter these structures every once in a while, others live in them on a daily basis. Not being able to use your cell phone in your own home can be extremely frustrating, especially when you’re paying almost $100 a month. Home Wi-Fi networks can at least keep you connected to your data, but you’re still out of luck for voice calls.

That is, unless you invest in a home femtocell.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless provide such devices, which use your broadband Internet connection to boost the cellular signal inside your home. AT&T’ offers the 3G MicroCell, while Verizon Wireless brings its Network Extender to the table. Both essentially make the same claim — the MicroCell or Network Extender will help you get cell service indoors, where your home’s construction (or perhaps where your home is located) makes getting a reliable signal a chore, if not downright impossible. We’ve actually covered AT&T’s 3G MicroCell in the past, where our own Jeff Weisbein received a free MicroCell and praised its ability to provide a consistent 5 bars inside his home. We can’t speak for Verizon’s offering, but if you find yourself without signal more times than not, it can’t be any worse.

So, what will one of these devices cost you? The AT&T 3G MicroCell runs for $150. On the Verizon Wireless side of things, the Network Extender rings up at $250. AT&T’s product is not only cheaper, but also comes with the option to add a $10 Unlimited MicroCell Calling feature to your plan. With the plan activated, you can make unlimited calls from your MicroCell network without using your cell minutes. Not only that, but if you start a call on your MicroCell and leave home, your call still uses no cell minutes; even if your phone jumps onto the main AT&T network. Verizon Wireless offers no such plan, unfortunately.

With that in mind, AT&T clearly provides the better deal with its 3G MicroCell. However, if you’re a Verizon Wireless customer, you may feel that ponying up $250 is a necessary evil in order to use your cell phone at home. Neither product is particularly useful for those who rarely make phone calls; you can always use your home Wi-Fi for data, after all, and there are numerous VoIP options for those who need to make or receive the occasional call. If you make a lot of calls, or if you just want to get your money’s worth for that wireless bill you pay every month, consider picking up the 3G MicroCell or the Network Extender.

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