Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Focus on America's Small Carriers

A few years ago there were well over a hundred wireless carriers in the US.  Today that number is closer to 70.  Most of those networks are now in survival mode and we're here to make sure their story gets told.  Most of us are familiar with the Top 4 cellular companies.  Our objective at Mountain Wireless is to help the other 66 networks rise up in our collective conscience.  Very few of them involve a sacrifice in products or services.  Some have better prices than the major carriers and some have much better customer service.  They just need to get noticed.

Before you jump from one of the Top 4 to another, consult our Local Reviews page and see if one of these smaller-but-better carriers serves your neighborhood.  We host a narrative of what's available based on location, including how they compare with the major wireless companies.

We would also like to send a heads-up to those smaller carriers that it's time to consider a hook-up with a neighboring carrier instead of selling out to one of the majors.  Yes, they're the ones who have the cash to at least help the exiting owner catch up on his bills on the way out the door, but we'd rather see some holding of hands, a little singing of Kumbaya and maybe yield a new top 10 carrier.  It wouldn't take much.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

And Then Sprint Dropped to FREE

We've given much exposure to Sprint's plans lately and how users with their old cheap promotions need to convert to something else to continue saving.  Zowee, then Sprint resurrects their "1 Year FREE" promotion.

FREE isn't good enough for some people, but it's good enough for us.  This time we will talk about Sprint's FREE plans.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ClearTalk Sells Last Piece to Boost

ClearTalk, a scrappy CDMA network that started in small town USA, has been selling off bits and pieces of their network to Sprint over several years.  The last part of ClearTalk, located in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas has finally been taken over by Sprint and will be integrated with their Boost Mobile product. By the end of February, Cleartalk will disappear and their stores will become Boost Mobile stores.  In the past, that has also meant some stores will close.

Cleartalk's local networks were so small the local store pretty much bragged about how you'll get "nationwide" coverage, which means they expected you to be roaming a significant amount of time on Sprint's network.  ClearTalk phones should work in the future as Boost phones.  We can't find anyone who knows whether or not the ClearTalk network will be integrated into Sprint's network, but we expect them to only keep operating if there isn't a Sprint site in the area.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sprint's Really Good Deal-If You're Family

Last we noted that Sprint's Half-Off plans were expiring and that some alternatives were a bit cheaper than Sprint's current plans.  There's always a Sprint fan out there to remind us that Sprint does offer some outstanding prices...if you qualify.  How to qualify?  Go have kids.  Or better, get a group of friends and family together and go in for a Sprint "family" plan.  If you get 2 lines of service, the price comes out to $100, and they'll throw in the 3rd, 4th and 5th line for FREE!

Why doesn't Sprint advertise the fact that this is a $20 per line plan?  I'll tell you why.  This sets the precedent that customers will then expect more $20 per month plans, and no carrier wants to go down that path.  Even though that's where we're heading, anyway, no carrier wants to be accused of what our elders call "pissing in the whiskey."

Fortunately, most carriers are pretty loose about defining "family", so round up your homeys, they don't even need to be in the same state, and start singing, "We are family..."  No need to plan Thanksgiving dinner together...just call.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thousands Get Booted for Roaming Too Much

We were updating our database of  cellular carriers in Montana and got an earful of complaints about wireless customers who were notified that their service with Verizon Wireless was being terminated.  The latest batch of cutoffs involved 8,500 customers with 19,000 lines of service across 13 states (Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin).  Other areas of the country were affected in the summer of 2017.  It was the Montana customers who pointed it out to us.

The problem is not a new one.  These people signed up with Verizon Wireless with the assumption that their plan would work anywhere in the US.  When these customers used their phone mostly outside of the Verizon network, they started racking up huge roaming charges that Verizon did not want to cover, which they are perfectly within their right to do.  Each of these users received a 30-day notice and they thought their wireless world was about to end.  Part of the problem was Verizon's new, "Unlimited" plans which generated a whole lotta Data roaming.

Fortunately, since these people had already been able to use their cellular phones, somebody was offering coverage in their area and all they needed to do was switch carriers.  Easy for us...and easy for Verizon to say.  In some cases, these customers went back to a landline.  Others had the luck to explain their problem to a neighbor or store who provided the name of the local carrier who actually provided their wireless service.

Of course it's never that simple.  Mid-Rivers Wireless in eastern Montana got so many requests for new service they ran out of phones and had to turn customers away. A few others, like Nemont Wireless welcomed new customers with open arms.  A very small number of users found relief at the local Walmart store or online with Straight Talk or similar service with barely a hiccup in service.  What incensed so many customers was how much they invested in a new phone from Verizon which they feared would become an expensive paper weight.  With most of the alternative carriers' "Bring Your Own Phone" plans, even that need not be a problem.  However, most, but not all of these "Alternatives", do not offer an unlimited Data option.

We don't want to single out Verizon, they're not the only one doing this, but they could have been a little less heavy-handed, and it would have been a bit less traumatic if so many customers weren't terminated at the same time.  It's our job to let everyone know there's usually a wireless solution to every wireless problem.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Did Your Sprint Half-Off Plan Just Expire?

2 years ago Sprint took chainsaw in hand and cut their competitor's prices in half.  If you took up Sprint's offer, these plans are now expiring and it's time to review your options.  Sprint claims their current plans are competitive but you need to check.  It's possible the plan you get transferred to may not be the best.  Take time to check among Sprint's plans.

If you like your Sprint phone but just want to maintain a rock-bottom price on your plan, you can switch carriers while still using the Sprint network (including some off-network roaming). The 2 carriers we are familiar with that use the Sprint network are Tello and Twigby.  Both offer cheaper plans on the Sprint network with the ability to upgrade your phone now, or later.

Twigby is having their own half-off safe for your first 2 months which gives you a chance to taste their service before eating the whole enchilada.  Tello is offering a double your data promotion that gives you 10 Gb of data as part of their 'build your own' plans. Unfortunately, neither of these 2 carriers are currently offering an Unlimited data plan which got you to where you are today.  By now you'll know how much data you need and that may give you a chance to save some money.

Of course we need to tell you we have a marketing relationship with all these carriers (as we do with  most carriers), but we were not paid for this post.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sprint Tells About New Cells

Last month we noted that Sprint's CEO Marcelo Claure mentioned that they would focus less on small cells and more on full-size or "macro" cells.  We had hoped that would mean new coverage in rural areas and places where Sprint had lost roaming coverage through now-lost partners.

Last week on UBS Global Media and Communications Brokers Conference Call, Tarek Robbiati, Sprint CFO indicated they would "tri-band" their cell sites, and, "we are going to add a few new towers because our network footprint is probably in need of an expansion in some specific neighborhoods where we feel we are a little bit short. So we are going to roll out new towers, a few thousand towers, to get back in line with neighborhood expansion." Neighborhood expansion? That does not sound like new coverage in Casper, Wyoming. It sounds like new coverage in that part of San Francisco where they could use a few more bars in a few more bars...or homes.

Since he also said, "a few thousand towers", maybe they will be in some in new areas.  Could we (or, even more, Sprint) hope for Euro-style Free-Range Roaming?  Or can we ignore that "1% difference?"

Friday, December 8, 2017

Free Roaming Where There Once Was None

Traveling outside the US and taking notes for our Z-Roam World Wide Wireless Roaming Page, I confirmed a welcome change in roaming across Europe.  Buying a SIM in one European country now allows roaming in almost every other European country at the same rate!  Unless you have included foreign roaming on your US-based phone, the most economical method for foreign roaming is to buy a local SIM for your unlocked GSM phone upon arrival in your visited country.  We have not paid more than the equivalent of $25 US for a SIM in a European country, and now we only need one SIM. 

Keep in mind a local SIM normally downloads at 4G LTE speeds.  Some US phones access foreign networks at 2G speeds.  It also depends on the band capabilities of your phone.

Before this summer, there was an unwelcome greeting on your screen as you cross from one country to another, "Welcome to Italy!  Roaming is available at the rate of 1 arm and 1 leg."  Now when you cross the border the same rate pops up that you saw in your arrival country.  Ahhh, that's the way it's supposed to be.  This was a change initiated last summer under the direction of the European Union. 

Related Post: Roaming on the Train.

Does that mean the UK will not adhere to this requirement after Brexit?  We still have our backup method for Global roaming by purchasing a roaming SIM before leaving the US.  Do that and you'll avoid literally running around the airport or train station looking for the right local SIM.  I do that to get some exercise after getting off the plane.

As I mentioned a few days earlier, this is all about roaming Data.  The welcoming text message also  told me I have 3,000 minutes of Talk or Text which I haven't used, yet.  Talk?  What's that?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Roaming on Trains in Europe

This is the 2nd report on roaming in Europe.  Results of each trip helps determine the best way to roam outside the US for our Z-Roam web site.  Delightfully, Wi-Fi works on all London Underground subways, all Paris Metro lines and on the London to Paris Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) train.  This sorta makes cellular roaming unnecessary, and it's fortunate that Wi-Fi was there.  Either rural England has poor cellular service along the tracks or we chose the wrong SIM.  Judging from how good cellular service was on the bus to StoneHenge, I lean toward the choice of SIM.  Last year we chose the "Libara" re-seller and this year we chose "3".  Libara was better, using the  Vodaphone network.  Fortunately, Wi-Fi on all the trains kept the difference from being a problem.  Yes, even in the tunnel.

Related post: SIM Shopping in Europe

Also fortunate is the choice to use the Google Hangouts Dialer for calls to and from the US so that we could use the more widely available Data connections and not need the traditional voice network.  We also noticed that 4G LTE is not as available in rural areas, but 3G, or more accurately HSPA, was good enough.

What I did not expect was the utter silence in the Chunnel train.  Not one person talking to another, no laughter, not even an overly-loud phone conversation.  This was disturbing.  I expected a party car, especially since a couple of train cars away was a bar, and people were only slightly more talkative there.  I can only guess that the availability of Wi-Fi modified the structure of social interaction.  I hope the messages weren't, "Guess where I am!"  Would cat videos be better?

Coming up, the biggest roaming surprise.