Monday, January 23, 2017

Fake News? Why Didn't We Think of That?

We may be sloppy in not quoting all our sources and we might have missed some details when making our opinionated blasts, but we never thought about just making up stories.  It could be we're just not that creative...or that credible.  We need to make sure you know that what we report in this, and all other Mountain Wireless web sites, has some basis in fact.  We truly believe what we're rambling about is true.

Of course it needs to be relevant, who comes here to talk about potatoes?  More than a few times we have stepped out of the facts to insert our opinion, but it is usually preceded by the terms, "We think," or "We believe," or the like.  No, our take is never fake.  But if we say something is so and there isn't a link to back it up, we need to fix it up.  If we don't, it's a screw-up, not a cover-up.  Long live the 'Noise.'

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Verizon Gets Back into Prepaid

After reporting that Verizon Wireless was making their Prepaid products somewhat less competitive, there appears to have been an about face.  Checking Verizon's Prepaid plans, we see the $30 prepaid plan is back and their more expensive plans appear to include a bit more incentive to sign up.

It was several months ago that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo was quoted, "quite honestly, we use the TracFone brand as our prepaid product."  Now, it is reported that Verizon is working with 3rd-party Prepaid sellers to expand into the prepaid market in a different direction.  It looks like Verizon has decided Prepaid is a market segment they can't ignore...even though they tried.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dirt Cheap Plans

As a wireless consumer advocate we get updates about (and use) some of the lowest-cost cellular plans.  Here is an update on some of these very low cost plans for ultra-low usage:

    FreedomPop gets the award for offering the most brazen offer: FREE wireless plans!  They hope you'll add one of their inexpensive add-on services, but you don't need to.  FreedomPop uses the Sprint and AT&T networks and you can bring your own GSM phone.
    T-Mobile still offers their $3 per month plan which gets you 30 minutes of Talk or 30 Texts.  With Auto-Pay they will refill your account if you need more at the same rate of .10 each.  Data passes are available if you really want it.

    US Mobile plans start at $4 per month which gets you 100 Texts OR 100 Mb of Data, you need to choose which.  Add $3 more (or $5 for Talk Only) and you can add 100 minutes of Talk.  US Mobile offers Auto-Pay on these plans and uses the T-Mobile network.
    Tello's plans start at $5 per month which gets you 100 minutes Talk AND 200 Texts.  For $4 more you get 200Mb of Data.  Tello uses the Sprint network.

    Page Plus offers $10 for 120 days which gives you a $2.50 per month plan.  You get a combination of 100 minutes Talk or 200 texts.  You'll use the Verizon Wireless network but with some some phone model restrictions, and there's the annoying 'drop dead' refill dates.
Yes, there are a few other very low-cost plans, but we have first-hand information on these.  Of course, these carriers also offer some great values for larger amounts of usage.  Surprisingly, Republic Wireless, a 'Wi-Fi first' carrier, has increased their prices to where they are no longer among the cheapest providers.

We keep track of some of the cheapest plans and carriers at MountainPrepaid.  Coming soon: the Cheapest Data plans.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Auto-Pay Makes Prepaid Palatable

One of our biggest objections to going Prepaid was the cumbersome payment cycle required by prepaid accounts. You didn't pay the bill once a month like the electric bill, you paid at or near an exact payment date or you lost your account value, and your service if you were one day late.  These types of payments still exist but finally most Prepaid operators now offer some form of "Auto-Pay", or "Auto-Refill", where your monthly payment is automatically deducted from a credit card, debit card or checking account.

The upside with Auto-Pay is it's easier to pay than the electric bill because the payment is made without any hassle.  In most cases you get an Text or email that the charge to your card or checking account is being made, and no action is required on your part. Having an associated account also makes it easy to change features or add-ons to your account.  The downside includes the challenge of stopping Auto-Pay.  Some carriers make you go through a menu of choices before you find a way to cancel.  Additionally, credit cards have expiration dates that can interrupt the Auto-Pay process suddenly finding yourself with no wireless service.

Some carriers are better than others in making Auto-Pay consumer-friendly.  There are carriers that even offer a discount when you sign up.  Most carriers offer both online and app access to your account.  Several will notify you long before there is a problem including an upcoming expiration date. Our advice sometimes includes backing away and allowing for the fact that something will cause your account to be charged a slightly different amount than you expect, and it may cause less trouble to grin and bear it than pressing to get back a few dollars.

Keep in mind that if you choose not to use Auto-Pay, Mountain Prepaid offers Discount Wireless Refills which can be applied automatically or with a PIN, and we offer refills in more denominations than the carriers themselves to better match your Prepaid usage.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

4G in Mexico? Where?

We're trying to spend as much time in Mexico this winter as possible.  We need to get back soon but hopefully after the most recent snow melts.  Until then, we continue to search for the elusive 4G - LTE that each network claims.  Our last trip was along the Pacific coast and we're currently  on the Baja peninsula.  In both locations, all 3 major carriers claim "4G - LTE Coverage," but we're just not finding much.  There was a small town south of Puerto Vallarta (Boca Tomatlan) where Telcel gave us a solid 4G - LTE signal, and a short stretch of 4G in Cabo San Lucas on AT&T.  Otherwise, those G's remain elusive.

Another change is that the Cricket phone we carried no longer roams on TelCel.  If it loses the AT&T signal it will roam on Movistar or "Emergency Calls Only."  We will assume a US-based AT&T phone will react similarly.  What's cute is how they have changed the name of the networks to include "4G", even when no 4G is available.  AT&T phones (US and Mexican models) occasionally roam on "Iusacel 4G", but that's AT&T's own network.  Some phones appear on "Telcel 4G", but it shows HSPA (as "H") as the technology, which is 3G at best.  3G is good enough, but if our limited observations are any measure, they have a long way to go to providing good, really high-speed broadband coverage.

The reason it's a big deal is that so many resorts have yet to install good wi-fi that can handle all of their guests' demands.  I had no idea how many devices are trying to connect to wi-fi until I looked at user reports and found hundreds of devices trying to use a single wi-fi site.  I thought I could hide from the neighbors by using cellular data, but it looks like they're thinking the same thing.  Escaping to the beach improves the attitude...but not the signal...and that's OK, too.

Monday, December 26, 2016

911 in Mexico Update

I know it's rough duty, but I'm sitting on the beach along the Baja Peninsula in Mexico testing wireless, and various flavors of tequila, available south of the border.  Use of 911 as the official number for all emergencies in Mexico was to have officially started October 3rd of 2016.  Rollout was to have occurred in 16 states across Mexico, not including Mexico City, and it may have.  From my perspective here in one of the "official" states, it's not an obvious change. There are still signs along roads, posted at police and highway facilities, even on ambulances, showing the previous emergency numbers, 074, 066, etc.  The multiplicity of numbers is part of reason for the change.

There have been memes and articles criticizing the change, which was originally scheduled to start on the first of 2016.  The 911 task force understands there are challenges to the implementation, not the least of which are the thousands of regular phone numbers that begin with "911..." which must be changed to reduce mis-directed calls.

Fortunately for the US tourist, the majority of US phones that roam in Mexico will automatically interpret a call to 911 as one looking for a local emergency number, and find it.  It should give us some comfort, especially since the incentive to choose a single national emergency number came after a tragic event that ocurred in Mexico in 2014.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Your Phone with MORE Numbers

It was just last week we commented that your wireless phone number has become a secondary consideration for your smart phone.  Today, T-Mobile announced they will take that idea one step further.  They will now allow you to ring your wireless phone with multiple numbers, even from other carriers, or enable your number to ring all of your devices.

While this isn't a complicated scheme, T-Mobile is doing it with normal calling channels, not as a work-around VoIP app.  This also could be compared to the multi-functional Google Voice features.  T-Mobile calls their new feature, "DIGITS" and it will be device-dependent, but they are incorporating it in a growing number of devices.  For now, you would be using DIGITS as a beta function, but the technology is not that experimental.

While the other wireless carriers can probably add this feature without too much difficulty, it's T-Mobile who has the courage to upset their own apple cart.  It makes us wonder why carriers haven't tried more of these creative features.  Can they be afraid of changing the status quo?  In the words of Mike Sievert, Chief Operating Officer of T-Mobile, “DIGITS is breakthrough technology that won’t be replicated any time soon.”  So, once again, not only is T-Mobile disrupting the status quo, they're throwing out a challenge to other carriers, 'catch us if you can.'

Friday, December 2, 2016

Contemplating a Move to Canada?

Up north wireless is different.  In Canada, there are only 3 national carriers, compared to 4 in the US.  Canada is an example of what would happen if we had only a "Top 3": high prices.  Canadian wireless users keep hoping that their federal government will issue spectrum and licenses to enable the existence of a 4th major carrier...which they have done...but a new national network has not been created.  It's too big of a project to build that much new wireless infrastructure.  So the crumbs tossed out by their government have been gobbled up mostly by existing players.

What has happened is the some of the smaller players that users had hoped to someday grow big and be competitive, have gone in different directions.  What was Mobilicity has been acquired by Rogers Wireless and absorbed into Chatr Mobile.  This is similar to T-Mobile taking over MetroPCS.  Chatr offers different price points and the same coverage as Rogers, but nobody's giving away the store.

The other change was the acquisition of Wind Mobile, Canada's last hope for wireless salvation.  They were purchased by one of Canada's major cable companies, Shaw Communications, and the name was changed to Freedom Mobile. Hopes were dashed when Freedom sold their licenses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to local operators in those provinces.  This funded Freedom's upgrade of 4G-LTE coverage in other areas, but requires their customers to roam outside their home service area, which is still quite small, and some of which is limited to higher AWS frequencies.  Freedom does offer cheaper local plans and better deals for roaming into the US, but they can't offer the iPhone.  Freedom's moves don't seem to affect the top 3, so the game continues, and the prices remain higher than in the US. Lucky us. And it's why we can't let any of our top 4 carriers merge.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Your Phone Without a Number

When flip phones gave way to Smart phones, we asked, "What's next?"  Now that the phone has become a 'device', the actual use of this unit is for data access and not so much as a 'telephone'. Making calls has fallen for many users to the point where voice calls and text messages are just another app, and no longer the primary use of the device.

This has led to cheaper,  'data-only' plans, and your phone number is no longer the domain of your wireless carrier.  I was hit with this reality while roaming in Europe where I only needed a SIM for data access, not a plan that enabled calls to the US or locally.  All you need is a data SIM.  You bypass the need for identification and you make whatever calls you want with an app...for free, and only if you don't lose any prepaid minutes.  This has been the basis for "Wi-fi Calling" but just as easy on any data-connected device.

In our case, we used Google Hangouts (and the Hangouts Dialer) for outgoing calls, and Google Voice and Hangouts for incoming calls.  If configured properly, your Google Voice number shows on Caller ID.  You know what, this sounds complicated.  But after you use it, you begin to realize this is revolutionary...and just as usable at home as it is for roaming.  At worse, your outgoing calls show a Caller ID of "unknown number", because your call has no number.  Because a number we no longer need.  Us cheapskates are cheering.