UPDATE: (And possible solutions if you are having issues…)

You can read the part of my original post , where I just couldn’t recommend the Microcell because of the headaches I was experiencing getting the thing set up.  The root of the problem(s) I experienced turned out to be largely a web activation problem.(!)

After hours of unsuccessful phone based customer service, I started to whine on Twitter and got a rep to respond there.  (Yet another Twitter is my Hero story coming, I’m afraid!)  I got a hold of an AT& T customer service rep. (@ATT Chris) and he put me directly in touch with the Microcell service team. (Why the phone staff couldn’t do this, I have no idea.)

A wonderful guy, Gerard Morales (hope I spelled that correctly), walked me through the process.  The documentation for setting up the Microcell has two options, one that uses a wifi router and one that uses the direct modem that connects to your ISP.

Basically, Microcell needs to be working in parallel, not serial, with your ISP connection.  When it was set up in serial, it was hogging bandwidth from the modem directly, and blocking our internet connection altogether.  Once we had the Microcell instead plugged into the wifi router (Apple Time Capsule), and did a deactivation and reactivation on the AT&T website, we were up and going in minutes.

In essence, all the time I spent on the phone with customer service was based on a bit of a red herring- a backend, server side activation issue.  It caused people to assume it was an “idiot customer failed to plug stuff in right” problem, not that the website activation portion could possibly be at fault.

The rejiggering the cables, plugs, connections and everything else on my end (per instructions from phone-based customer service) was not the problem at all.   Once we handled an activation/deactivation sequence and reconnected everything correctly, we were fine.

So for anyone else wasting a weekend day with microcell activation issues, here are the steps.

1. If you are having activation problems, go to the AT&T website and sign into your account.

2. Go to Manage AT&T 3G Microcell settings on the left hand side of the screen.

3.  Deactivate the Microcell.  (The website will walk you through this.)

Now, the hardware.

4. Use the yellow ethernet cable and plug it into the Microcell, and then plug the other end of the cable into an open port on your wifi router.

5. Connect the power cord to the Microcell.

6. See what happens.  In a short period of time, the microcell got up and functioning, and we were in business.  I didn’t even have to go and “reactivate” the account on the AT&T website.

I have to say, all the customer service people were fantastic, but most of the front line reps just don’t understand the Microcell setup.  Before you know it, people are worried about router port settings and you are off to making a simple problem really complicated, when it can be as simple as a website activation problem.

Let’s here it for people making a simple problem more complicated than it needs to be, and assuming that the software is infallible.  Guess what?  It’s not always the customer’s problem, folks.  It surely can be, but not always.  And Occam’s Razor of “try the simple stuff first” ended up being the answer.

And I swear, if I ever am in Seattle, I will buy your awesome customer service rep, Theresa, a coffee.  She was great.  ATT Chris and Gerard Morales, you are on my Christmas card list, for sure.

Thanks again for solving the problem and I am sure I will love the Microcell once the emotional scars scab over.