Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'Tis the Season for Computer Network Repairs

Late last week I received an exciting letter in the mail. It seemed AT&T was offering me a FREE 3G MicroCell. All I needed to do was pick it up at the AT&T store.

So on Friday, I set out for the store address on the letter. Of course, they were out of stock, which forced me to drive to another address, but after the second stop I headed home with my prized new MicroCell.

If you don't know what a MicroCell is -- well it acts like a mini cell tower inside your house, and uses your internet connection (DSL in my case) to communicate your voice and data information to your cell phone. When it works you should be able to get a signal for your cell phone in places you haven't been able to get a signal before. The lack of signal indoors had probably caused me to lose half the utility of my iPhone over the last year, so I was excited.

I plugged the MicroCell into my router, went to the activation site on the web an hour or so, it worked! I was in cell phone heaven -- I had four or five bars pretty much anywhere I went in the house. And as the rest of the family was soon converting to AT&T (against their will, I might add), they'd get the benefit, too.

Only, but Saturday morning, it wasn't working. I tried power cycling the equipment five or six times, and repositioning the MicroCell (it needs to get a GPS signal to work), but nada. I fiddled with it Sunday and Monday. So by Tuesday, I was desperate enough to call the AT&T help line.

They weren't any help. In fact, they were positively unhelpful.

They claimed they could tell that my router was the problem -- it was "disengaging" the MicroCell (whatever that means). I must call the router manufacturer and get them to "engage" the port where the MicroCell was plugged. Of course, my router is several years old, and out of warranty, so any call to the router manufacturer would require a credit card payment. So I looked on the AT&T website for instructions on how to overcome this, and found a step by step instruction for my router. It didn't occur to me that the help line person might not have sent me to these instructions for a reason....

I went into the router documents, clicked and changed a few settings, hit "apply" and....the entire network shut down. I couldn't even access the router anymore.

After close to three hours on the phone with a technician from the router manufacturer, and the payment of $100, I was able to get the network back up. But still no MicroCell action.

Sometimes FREE isn't a good price.

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