AT&T WIFI calling vs. Microcell
I have been an AT&T customer for over 15 years and have seen the good and the bad in services and coverage. I also live in a fringe area and have minimal service at best. AT&T provided me with a Microcell years ago which was great and has served me well over the years. I don’t drop calls, I don’t have any issues making or receiving calls, and I always have five bars of service. Unfortunately, as technology pushes forward and new features and service implementations come of age, some of the older tried and true ones are phased out.
My issue revolves around the implementation of WIFI calling vs. the Microcell. With the microcell, when I placed a call that was within range, the call would stay on the microcell until I moved out of range and it would handoff to the nearest cell tower. As long as I left my house in the right direction to maintain a call I knew I could continue talking. and I always had five bars of service.
With the newer iPhone 6 on IOS 9 that all changed, and not for the better. As I have been told by AT&T, the Microcell firmware has not been updated to work with the iPhone 6 and is only designed to work with the iPhone 5 or below. Issues such as three-way calling wouldn’t work anymore without audio dropouts (hearing every other 4th word), and even after ending the call it would continue to happen with a new single party call. The fix, a reboot of the phone.
Now let’s talk WIFI calling, the wave of the future. Well the principals are the same as the Microcell, the Implementation however is spotty at best. Unlike the Microcell, when turned on, it isn’t "sticky" and is constantly switching back to cellular service. There are advantages to this if you are in an area that has good cell service; however, if you are in a fringe area this is a guaranteed drop call.
To try and resolve the issue I called AT&T support and tried to explain my issue to the representative. after about three or so minutes, she was completely confused and had no idea how to help me. Now for the best part. The issue I just described to her occurred, dropped call. So naturally I called back and got representative two.
This time I wasn’t on WIFI calling so I knew it was only a matter of time before the call would drop so I told her this up front. My hope was that she would call me back when the call dropped. We got a bit further in the conversation when you guessed it, the call dropped. I waited for about 5 minutes and no call back. I started to get a bit frustrated and called back again to get representative three.
This time I was back on WIFI so my chances, well let’s say the cards were not in my favor. I told the representative that she was lucky number three and explained my problem to her. She was going to unregister my phone from the network and let it re-provision. To do this I had to power off my phone and wait a bit before I power it back on. I said ok and low and behold guess what happened, I got dropped. So I went ahead and did what representative three said to do. Then I waited expecting her to call me back, and waited, and waited....... Nope, no call back. As you can imagine the level of frustration was mounting so I called back to get representative number four.
I told her right up front that she was representative number four and that when the call drops no one calls me back. She told me that she would put her phone in a different mode so that she wouldn’t receive another call if my call dropped. Now why couldn’t any of the other representatives figure out how to do that, they all knew that the call was likely to drop. I explained the issue to her and she had me repeat the registration procedure on the network. This time I did receive a call back and we continued to troubleshoot. She had me do a speed test on my network which I know was fine, but I went ahead and did it anyway. she concurred the results were within spec. This time I was able to hold a call for at least 20 minutes with the network switching between WIFI and cellular.
The funny thing about cell phones is they are a Radio Frequency (RF) device under all that digital that everyone markets. The carrier signal is still an analog RF signal that will constantly change as you move around or have interference from other RF signals. When you only have one, two, or even three bars of cellular signal I would expect the WIFI signal to be "locked in". I believe AT&T needs to change the threshold for what is considered a reliable signal before switching to cellular if I am connected with WIFI. I also believe the representatives need to be educated more in-depth on Local Area Networks (LAN). One of the troubleshooting steps should have been to look at the firewall rules that are on my network, not just running a speed test. And AT&T should have never considered the Microcell End of Life (EOL). Until WIFI calling has been in the wild for a couple of years the Microcell is still the best option for the fringe user.