Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One Less Cellular One

Is it news that another Cellular One disappears?  This year Cellular One of Eastern Illinois sold out to AT&T.  The loss of a very small carrier doesn't move the needle and should mean improved service for Illinois wireless customers.  We expect moderate upgrades including more 4G - LTE coverage in exchange for adopting AT&T plans and prices.

The Cellular One Illinois network has excellent rural coverage and should serve AT&T customers well.  In past years we had hoped that all these small carriers would hook up with each other to create a viable fifth or sixth network but now we feel fortunate to have four major carriers.  Our friends in Canada still dream of having a fourth national carrier so, while we read the writing on the wall for the remaining small carriers, we'll enjoy the good things we have.

Make sure when considering a new or cheaper source for wireless service, check the entire list of carriers that serve your neighborhood on our local cellular pages.  Choose while you can.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sale on Plans at Page Plus

My family has several Page Plus phones.  Three of these phones have Auto-Refill and, after recently adding a new 'glove-box' phone, I discovered that Page Plus is offering a new discount for Auto-Refill.  Some of these discounts are as much as 16%!  Even if you already have Auto-Refill on your plans, you can delete the old refill, re-add it, and you'll get the new price.

Page Plus is an America Movil Prepaid and offers some of the lowest-priced plans for both Pay-As-You-Go and Monthly plans, including Data.  They occasionally offer Auto-Refill discounts on other America Movil accounts, but you may miss it, especially if you already have Auto-Refill.  We don't get any compensation for this tip (although we do offer Discount Page Plus Refills at Mountain Prepaid), but the more popular these deals are, the more Page Plus can afford to do these promotions.

If you have an old Verizon phone, Page Plus is one of the least expensive ways to maintain a second or low-cost wireless account.  While Page Plus charges for roaming off the Verizon Wireless network, that rarely happens, and some Prepaids don't allow off-network roaming at all.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Installing a Wireless Home Phone

For years we've supplied information about going totally wireless at home, and this week we helped a family member do just that.  He rents his apartment for part of the year and the management company requires a "fixed" phone hanging on the wall or the counter.  We happened to use the Straight Talk Wireless Home Phone, but you can also use replacements from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Net10, Sprint, and some 3rd party suppliers. Straight Talk does indeed cut your phone bill in half...his monthly charge went from $32 to $16, including taxes and fees.

The model we used is the Straight Talk Huawei H223C ("C" as in CDMA) which is available at Walmart and directly from Straight Talk.  The "C" models use the Verizon Wireless network. Prices range from FREE to $50.  Our friend bought a new model at for $30 and then a backup refurbished unit for FREE for the price of a $15 refill card from Straight Talk.  Following the instructions in the box he was good to go within minutes. He filled the new phone with the refill card and set up Auto-Fill after that.  He started with a randomly-assigned number but later "ported" his wired line number to the new wireless box.  Straight Talk's customer service accomplished this fairly easily.

His tryout period gave him a chance to use the line like a short term renter with Call Forwarding and Voice Mail disabled.  Straight Talk was able to disable just those features and still allow Free Long Distance, Caller ID, Call Waiting, and 3-Way Calling.  After porting, his outgoing Caller ID changed from his billing name to just the calling location, another plus.

Overall, everything worked as planned.  Downsides include call quality that isn't quite as good as a landline, and when there is no answer, incoming callers hear, "The Verizon Wireless customer is not available..." which occurs after 30 seconds, or about 6 rings.  Who lets it ring more than 4 times?  The Huawei box is semi-hidden in a cabinet.  Most renters use their own cell phone but this option fulfills all the needs of the program and saves almost $200 a year.  We'll help you do all this at the Mountain Wireless Cut the Cord Page, with deals at the Moose Wireless Home Phone Page.

Friday, March 4, 2016

T-Mobile Acquires More Good Spectrum

A few month ago we gave T-Mobile credit for expanding their coverage across a large part of the country in the 700 MHz spectrum.  The 700 MHz band has superior coverage characteristics which has helped T-Mobile substantially improve performance in rural areas and inside buildings.  This year we have discovered that T-Mobile has completed even more deals for additional 700 MHz spectrum which now gives them majority ownership of the "A" channel of that 700 MHz allocation (subject to FCC approval).  You can view the assignment map for this newly-acquired spectrum on our Cellular Maps 700 MHz web page.

We have long been a fan of T-Mobile's competitive spirit, but this entry into such wide 700 MHz coverage makes them a substantial player.  Sprint, who has slipped into the #4 position among wireless carriers, also has substantial spectrum holdings, but they are located in higher frequency bands which do not carry as far or as deep as the 700 MHz bands.  While Sprint's assignments are adequate for now, their future coverage is in question as they are proposing to move the cell sites to "cheaper" locations.  It's one thing to say you're not going to expand your coverage, it's quite another to imply that coverage may change by moving sites.  let's hope it an idea that isn't carried out.

With T-Mobile settling in on some new spectrum allocations, they should also be able to fill in some of their still-needed territory with the upcoming 600 MHz auction coming later this year.  Sprint needs to move ahead, not cut back.  We still need all 4 carriers to survive and Sprint needs to at least stay above water.  They have been filling some areas with the Sprint Roaming Alliance, but those roaming partners are having even more challenges in staying afloat.

The focus was recently on price and capacity, it's great to see it's now back to more coverage is better.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

No Sweat Roaming in Europe

For my latest trip to Europe I wasn't sure what to use for wireless service other than one of the relatively expensive regular plans from one of the top 4 carriers.  It might be worth it to subscribe for just one month, but I thought there must be a cheaper way.  This is what I did, instead:

I installed Google Hangouts in my GSM smart phone (including the Hangouts Dialer) and connected Hangouts and my voice mail to my Google Voice number. (You can also forward your own number to Google Voice)  Upon arrival in Europe I purchased a local SIM at an airport newsstand. The one I chose was Lebara Mobile which cost $3US, with the lowest topup at $23US.  Check their leaflet to choose a plan and text the plan name to a short code number.

Once my phone acquired a 4G signal, I was receiving incoming calls to my US number and voice mail notifications through Hangouts on the broadband connection.  I was able to make local calls through the regular dialer at about a penny per minute.  Calls to the US completed through Hangouts were free.

The only challenge was where to the buy the SIM.  There are "SIM" stores that charge about twice as much as other sources.  Instead, you can buy a local SIM from almost any airport newsstand and even from vending machines for much less.  SIM's can be purchased in the US, but then they must be shipped.  I can't think that far ahead.  This was easier and cheaper than I thought possible. I received free calls to my normal US number, I called the US for free, I called UK numbers for about .02USD/min. and had 4G broadband access everywhere.  What a trip!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mexico Roaming Goes Mainstream

AT&T invested in Mexico with the hopes that they could tap a market that could grow significantly with a growing number of Data users.  The secondary objective was to create a "borderless" North American market where AT&T would be the go-to provider for users who wanted to travel freely with cellular between the US and Mexico.  It is that secondary project that gave us all hope for seamless wireless travel across the continent.  As expected, this kicked off a flurry of competitive plans that gave actually us more than what we expected: Cheap Roaming for Talk, Text and Data!

As frequent Mexico travelers we tried to address the challenges on Mexico Cellular.  Our most popular Mexico Roaming solution was a Mexico "Travel" phone, a choice of a low-cost GSM phone or SIM from AT&T GoPhone.  We also recommended a few other alternatives, but all of them now have limited usefulness.  Most carriers currently offer either FREE or low-cost Mexico Roaming.  The only mainstream providers that don't are US Cellular, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and, oddly, the Mexican-owned America Movil networks (with the exception of TelCel America).  We can't help but think America Movil will jump on the bandwagon as well.  The travel phone concept still works for those of us who use the low-cost providers like PTel, Red Pocket and the America Movil companies (Tracfone, PagePlus, NET10, StraightTalk and others).  As we said last winter, this may still be an evolving process, but we sure like what has happened so far.

AT&T's actions have also sparked the Mexico networks to speed up their own upgrades toward faster broadband which will benefit US travelers using whichever Mexico network for roaming.  We currently favor AT&T's Cricket Wireless now that they offer full North American roaming as well as well-priced US service, and the potential of accessing the better AT&T 4G-LTE network in Mexico.  There should be more to come in this arena.  Yes, we can travel thousands of miles away to a warm Mexican beach and still be able to completely remove ourselves from our surroundings...just like home.  Be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

T-Mobile Fixes Their Weakest Link

We admire many of T-Mobile's recent marketing tactics which have forced many of the other carriers to compete more aggressively.  Would you ever switch to T-Mobile?  Most visitors to this site would claim T-Mobile's coverage has too many holes to entice us away, and I would agree.  But we may be wrong.

T-Mobile did not participate in the FCC auction that offered 700 MHz spectrum which provides better coverage than almost all other cellular channels.  However, they did buy up quite a bit of that spectrum from others later to provide new, robust coverage in mostly rural areas.  We're seeing ads for T-Mobile's, "New Extended Range" coverage...but should we believe it?  I too was skeptical until I realized that T-Mobile has indeed added significant coverage in many areas using these superior 700 MHz channels.  Not everyplace, but some really significant places.  These are the channels given up by TV stations back in 2009 when you and I had to get a digital converter to keep our old analog TV working (I still use mine).

The only limitation to this improved coverage is that we need to use a 700 MHz device, or "4G LTE Compatible."  This includes many of T-Mobile's newest phones including the iPhone 6S.  Yes, that means older iPhones can't go there.  But when you do go there, it's real 4G LTE, not the old HSPA. They're helping all of us by pressuring the other carriers into improving their product now that T-Mobile has checked off one more objection to their network.  Coverage...what a gimmick!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

More Lost Carriers We Don't Care About

It has been unnerving to see the real cellular carriers disappear, some of which were top performers among our Mountain Wireless Ratings.  Then there is the handful of prepaid carriers that sort of came and went without much notice.  PrepaYd (yes, with a "Y") and Voyager Wireless made an attempt at prepaid success and eventually threw in the towel.  Target made a much more feeble try at wireless with their Brightspot Wireless (named after their dog, Spot?).  Even Kroger has been able to maintain their own, iWireless.

All of these "Secondary" wireless companies are MVNO's (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) who just use the network facilities of the top carriers that own the towers and sites and such, and these MVNO's can just go into business with a desk, a phone and a website.  Such is the case with a handful of other prepaid companies who may also just fade away without notice.  Walmart has started 3 prepaid services of their own and we wonder how many of these will survive.

If the major carriers continue to cut prices on their own prepaid product (Cricket, MetroPCS, Boost, etc.), the small guys who don't operate efficiently will be pushed aside.  Does that mean higher prices again some day?  Probably long as most of the MVNO's stay sane and competitive, and no more retail chains think they can make their own wireless product.  Even Jennifer Lopez tried her own wireless and had to say, "adios."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Brand in Mexico: AT&T

AT&T has chosen the AT&T name for its new wireless product in Mexico.  They have combined the Iusacel and Nextel networks, started to add more cell sites, are upgrading the entire network to 4G-LTE, and should offer a very competitive product south of the border.  So, how do you pronounce "AT&T" in Mexico?  It should be: AH-TAY-Y-TAY...but their ads say A-TEE-N-TEE instead.

At we now show AT&T as an official Mexico carrier and added Unefon as their prepaid brand, somewhat like GoPhone in the US.  Additionally, AT&T has expanded the international calling abilities of their Cricket Wireless prepaid brand to include most of the western hemisphere as a reasonable add-on.  The world indeed seems smaller.