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.

Monday, December 4, 2017

SIM Shopping in Europe

In researching wireless roaming outside the US for our new Z-ROAM Worldwide Wireless Roaming site, we set off on a short European vacation.  Airports are great places to go SIM shopping.  We arrived at London's Heathrow and after looking for the nearest bathroom, we looked for the nearest European SIM.  The first SIM sighting was at an airport convenience store (we call them news stands).  They had SIM's at a reasonable price, but we were told their self-checkout scanners were not capable of activating a purchased SIM.  Huh?  If I can't buy it, can I just take it?  No?  Let's move on.

The second store we visited was a real SIM store but their SIM's started at 30 pounds (about $40 US).  That's waaaay too much for our quick in & out test.  We then found a SIM vending machine with prices starting at 20 Pounds (about $27 US), a better deal.  I stuck in my credit card and an arm comes out and pushes the SIM card package out onto a shelf which would hopefully deliver the SIM through a slot.  WHOA! The arm accidentally knocks off 2 cards and the whole machine shuts down.  So much for robots replacing humans.

By now the family is anxious to get on the train to town so my SIM transaction will have to wait.  The phone won't work on the London Underground anyway...because it's underground, right?  At the other end of the trip, there were a few stores in the train station that sold SIM's, but the ones with real cashiers weren't the ones with SIM's.  Logic?  My foreign SIM purchase had been thwarted in several tries.

Now headed for our hotel, we passed one of those little open air kiosks attended by a nice bearded gentleman who had candy, drinks...and SIM's!  He understood I only needed Data access, so he sold me a SIM with a 1Gb fillup for only 15 Pounds (about $20 US).  Success!  The biggest problem is what do your with your home wireless provider's nano-SIM?  Egad, it's so small, it won't even stay in your wallet.  Solution:  use the Ziploc bag you keep your liquids in, seal it up in your carry-on and hope for the best.

Hooray, connected to 4G LTE, our next step is to see how this service works through the Chunnel. Uh, that and the London subway are underground, right?  Gulp.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

LifeLine Program Loses Its Life Line

People with low income may soon find it more difficult to purchase subsidized phone and broadband plans, and may even be forced to find new carriers. This is the result of decisions made November 16th, 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC voted 3-2 to scale back the federal Lifeline program that lets low-income individuals use a $9.25 monthly household subsidy to buy Internet or phone service. The FCC also proposed a new spending cap that potentially prevents people who qualify for the subsidies from actually receiving them.

The FCC is also taking steps to prevent resellers, telecom providers that don't operate their own network, from offering Lifeline-subsidized plans.  This includes some carriers mentioned on our sites like Q-Link, Assurance Wireless, and Safelink.  Some of the these companies could be put out of business, overnight.

Some of the changes go into effect immediately. For others, the FCC is taking public comment before making the changes final. The proposed reseller ban would effectively force 70 percent of wireless phone users with Lifeline subsidies to find new providers, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, one of two Democratic commissioners. "On top of that, they may not have a carrier to turn to after that happens." Excluding resellers from the program would limit competition in the market for subsidized plans and push consumers toward dealing directly with network operators like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint.  "These carriers opted out of offering Lifeline-supported service on their own and prefer to allow non-facilities-based wireless providers to serve Lifeline subscribers and the low-income segments of the wireless market," consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge wrote.

Tribal residents also got bad news from the FCC. The $25 enhanced subsidy also can no longer be obtained through resellers. This change takes effect right away without any further public comment.
Now, only Tribal lands in rural areas will still qualify for the extra $25 a month.

Lifeline is paid for by Americans through fees imposed on phone bills. It has a budget of $2.25 billion. The Lifeline program has about 12.5 million subscribers, but only about one-third of eligible households is receiving the subsidies. FCC Commissioner Pai said, "The reforms that we implement and propose today seek to...curtail the waste, fraud, and abuse that continue to plague the Lifeline program..."

There are indeed smaller wireless carriers in the US that are "facilities-based" and will be able to continue to offer Line programs.  Follow-up to this fairly major turn of events will be monitored on our web sites, Mountain Wireless, Mountain Prepaid and Cellular Back Door, with major events also reported here in the Noise.

story credit: arstechnica

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sprint Says New Coverage is Coming

In the wake of the end of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger talks, Sprint president Marcelo Claure recent said tower companies are, "going to be very happy."  Sprint has been expanding mostly in the micro-cell area and now is hinting that they're going to expand coverage in a bigger way.  This brings to mind the kind of topics this news page reported in the 2007 to 2013 time period.  We often reported when a carrier made a significant expansion along this road or in that town.  Now, we're hoping those days are back again.

While AT&T and Verizon made significant coverage expansions several years ago, T-Mobile has grown across rural America just in the last few years.  In comparison, Sprint's lack of expansion beyond urban areas has almost been embarrassing.  It's not where we live, it's where we might go.  Sprint has made meager attempts to cover these areas, but we're spoiled...we want coverage everywhere.  We really hope that Sprint will try to accommodate our selfish wireless desires.

Small cell sites look like they're the path to 5G, and Sprint has done well in filling these "holes".  Now let's see them expand along the rest of the Interstate highways and appear in states that need a 4th...or even a 3rd, national player.  And, the tower companies Mr. Claure refers to already have most of the cell site locations already in new permits needed.  Sprint also has the spectrum, both at 1900 and 2500 MHz.  We're ready to cover the new coverage.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

T-Mobile and Sprint See the Light

T-Mobile made the announcement, that T-Mobile and Sprint just can't get along.  For them it's a power thing, or a money thing.  For us it's a good thing.  We don't want 3 carriers...we want 4.

 That was close.. Sprint is now free to pursue life seeking a cable company hookup, and that will be OK.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

T-Mobile Finds a Way To Use New Spectrum

While other carriers and the FCC say using their new 600 MHz wireless spectrum will take years, T-Mobile is doing it in months.  In order for a carrier to begin using the new spectrum won in the 600 MHz FCC auction, several broadcast TV stations must move to another channel.  This involves channel re-assignments and the cost of modified antennas and equipment.  Most carriers are waiting for that step before investing in their newly-won spectrum.

T-Mobile analyzed the 600 MHz locations and channels and decided they could start operating immediately in areas where the TV channels are already vacant, and help broadcasters with the expenses of moving others.  They actually started using their new spectrum in Wyoming earlier this year, and are now helping free up the channels in the largest US market, New York City.  T-Mobile is also helping several PBS stations make their moves as well.

T-Mobile will help the local TV station in New York that will be moving, move sooner, to make room for T-Mobile to start operating on these new channels in NYC.  This is very pro-active on the part of T-Mobile on their path toward becoming a coverage leader in the US.  It also helps the TV stations involved get their move done faster and cheaper than would happen by pressing the FCC for their share of auction funds.  More coverage is better, but remember, those of us who view TV Over the Air need to 're-tune' our TV's from time to time. Hey, more coverage at the push of a button.

Monday, October 9, 2017

T-Mobile & Sprint Together? No!

We have been saying it for years since before the failed AT&T and T-Mobile merger.  The US will be a sad place with only 3 large wireless carriers if T-Mobile and Sprint are allowed to merge.  We agree that Sprint needs a partner, but it does not need to be T-Mobile.  We just need to look to Canada where wireless users decry the high prices of wireless.

Not only will there be problems with a T-Mobile and Sprint combination, we will also see changes in the wholesale market where most of our value-priced prepaid carriers live.  Other ramifications include a deterioration in customer service and a slower roll out of technological development.  We won't go into this dark subject we have dreaded for so long, we will only make sure everyone knows we think this is not a good thing for wireless users in the US.

We can hope that another investor will come forth and offer to take Sprint and make it the happy place it once was.  They have so much spectrum and value to offer, and most important, the will and the need to be aggressive on pricing.  Call our friends up north and ask what they think of having only 3 national carriers.  Thumbs down.