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 phone...er 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 want...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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

911 Becomes Emergency Number in Mexico

For travelers considering a trip to Mexico, "911" is now the official number for all emergencies there.  This is a trend in several countries as they give in to the large number of users who consider "911" as the universal number for emergencies, regardless of where they are located.  Mexico made the decision to switch to "911" in 2016 after wandering all over the keypad with multiple 3-digit numbers for various services.  Now, "911" connects you to all Mexico emergency services: fire, ambulance, police, Red Cross and others.

For many years, most US phones operating in Mexico would automatically convert a call entered as "911" to the proper emergency number.  Even that was a moving target.  Now you press "911" from both wired and wireless phones.  The decison was among those made as a result of the the mass kidnapping and murders in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico on September 26, 2014.

We have added this tip to our Mexico Calling Procedures Page that you should consult before your next trip South of the Border.  As in the US, don't save "911" in your phone's address book.  It's the cause of the greatest number of erroneous 911 calls.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wireless in a Test (Tube) Market

A sharp-eyed reader noted that the network in central Pennsylvania, formerly known as Immix Wireless, is now up and running as Limitless Mobile.  In checking further how this network can rise from the ashes we found that it may be a demonstration project for the larger, UK-based Limitless Mobile corporation.  In this case, local residents may benefit from a well-run network that does not necessarily depend on a certain number of customers to stay in business.  They may be using their facilities to show how they can supply other wireless companies services to keep their own operations running.

Limitless Mobile in a 'show and tell' position gives us hope for an oasis of good wireless operation and coverage.  If they mess up there, why would anyone use any of their other services?  And some of those services include home wireless internet which can be bundled nicely with their mobile wireless plans.  We bid the scientists in the wireless laboratory in Harrisburg a glass half-full.

Friday, November 4, 2016

ClearTalk Wireless Disappears in the East

Our specialty at the Mountain Wireless web site is reports and reviews of all the wireless carriers in the US, large and small.  In some cases, carriers that sell out or give up are fairly clear about what they're doing.  One network that has not been clear is ClearTalk.  They built networks in several areas of the US and then sold off some of the pieces to other companies, most notably, Sprint.  In this year's update we found ClearTalk no longer serves any markets in the eastern US which we had listed as in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Multiple calls have produced no updated information other than they still maintain networks in Texas, California and Arizona.  Their web site states they also have local coverage in Colorado and New Mexico, but agents tell us there are "no local stores there," implying they no longer maintain a network there, either.

While this is a very small piece of the wireless pie, we feel it's an indication of how a company that doesn't, or can't, serve their customers well, can expect their business to deteriorate.  We understand that some small carriers exist only until the owners find a buyer or that the electric bill runs higher than the money coming in.  So, when parts of a network just disappear, we're concerned about the viability of the other parts.  We hope ClearTalk's old properties went to a good home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Verizon Drops Cheaper Prepaid

We thought Verizon Wireless would consider the future of wireless as prepaid, but they have done exactly the opposite and dumped some of their lowest-priced Prepaid plans.  As reported in Prepaid Phone News, Verizon has dropped a few of their Prepaid plans, probably to keep from eroding their postpaid numbers.

Recently we reported that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo quoted, "quite honestly, we use the TracFone brand as our prepaid product." At that time we thought the world of monthly phone payments and cheaper prepaid plans would cause Verizon to change their minds.  Not so.  Instead, they're handing the low end of the market to alternative carriers who deal with a lower profit margin and then, in some cases, send a nice check to Verizon each month.

This may mean that with Verizon avoiding the lowest part of the prepaid market, we may all see a wider variety of prepaid plans that could lower our wireless cost.  What used to be a place to help you switch to Prepaid wireless, our Mountain Prepaid web site is now the source to help you select from the myriad of choices of Prepaid providers who offer service as good as the main carriers.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Coverage: People vs. Property

There have been tremendous claims of improved coverage for the #3 and #4 wireless carriers but what's the real story?  It's fairly accepted that Verizon and AT&T have coverage over a large part of the United States...maybe 95%..  Then, you have Sprint and T-Mobile who have coverage over a much smaller geographical area.  It could be less than 50%.

If we then introduce the "population covered" measurement, things change dramatically.  AT&T and Verizon probably cover closer to 98% of the population, where Sprint and T-Mobile cover a little less...let's just guess 93%.  Isn't that almost as good?  They're all within a 5% difference!  Remember, we not talking about reliability (you know, the "1% difference?")

Wait.  There's another measurement.  Coverage for where we travel.  Some of us may never leave town and some often fly over those vast areas of uncovered real estate.  Then there are those of us who wander just a little farther out of town and...out of coverage.  So we stop being the 90-somethings, and start being the 50-somethings.  T-Mobile has actually done something about their rural coverage gaps and continues to agressively acquire spectrum in the 700 MHz band.  They indeed cover a bigger per cent of America.  That's better than a bigger per cent of Americans.  Did you catch the nuance?

For some of us it seems silly to point out the difference.  But when you hear a carrier claim they cover "95% of Americans"...watch out.  Those are the Americans who stay on the couch and munch potato chips.  The rest of us may tend to wander.

Friday, October 21, 2016

T-Mobile & AT&T Now Roam in Cuba

This week all 4 major US carriers now allow their customers to roam in Cuba.  With voice charges as high as $2/minute, it seems like a reversion to the old days of cellular roaming, but roaming in Cuba is a big deal.  Data roaming is an even bigger deal in that even wi-fi is not yet widely available.  When you do find wi-fi, some carriers, most notably T-Mobile, allow FREE calling to the US with Wi-fi Calling.  The trick is finding free wi-fi.

This is an unusual situation in that the CDMA carriers offered roaming before the GSM carriers in a GSM country.  We have an updated report on wireless roaming in Cuba at CellularCuba.com.  There you will find options for calling both TO and FROM Cuba.  In some parts of the US readers are wondering 'what's the big deal?'  The closer you get to Florida, the bigger a deal this is, and someday we may travel to Cuba as readily as Canada or Mexico.  It's a short trip and a different world.  It's good to have our phones now work there.

For those of us who don't have the right plan or are using Prepaid, Mobal Wireless can provide a SIM we can drop in our phone that roams in Cuba.  Also, visitors returning from Cuba advise you use your phone discreetly in Cuba.  There is a certain amount of resentment toward visitors to Cuba showing their weath in a such a poor country.  Now let's hope technology can get the price down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Choice Wireless Buys Innovative Mobile in USVI

It's a great Caribbean vacation destination, they use US dollars, speak English and your phone should roam there.  It's the US Virgin Islands.  Choice Wireless has been the middle carrier there but stands to get a whole lot better now that they have acquired the less-developed Innovative Mobile.  Overall coverage stands to improve with the combination of the 2 networks and Innovative also brings a collection of other communications features to the Choice family.

Choice is the retail arm of ATN International, the company that owns Commnet Wireless who specializes in wireless to smaller and less-developed places in North America.  Commnet has a relationship with all the major US carriers, so we expect wireless roaming to improve for both Island customers and roamers from the mainland.

The only hurtle we see is that Choice is CDMA and Innovative is GSM, so there won't be an overnight improvement after merging networks.  Choice (and Commnet) have often offered both technologies from their cell sites, so improvements may be much more transparent than other network conversions.  It may depend on who gets the most roaming traffic.  AT&T already provides good GSM coverage across the islands, so maybe CDMA will get the upper hand.  Either way, wireless coverage will get better and 4G will become more widely available, so pick one, and we'll take it.