Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sprint Roaming Response

For the last few years we have rated Sprint higher due to their good Roaming capabilities. Last year Sprint phones began to prefer roaming on Alltel over Verizon, and while Alltel is an excellent roaming partner, it involved a change. Some Sprint users told us their roaming coverage degraded. Others liked the improved data throughput Alltel offered. This discussion has expanded in newsgroups and forums, and we're seeing more and more Sprint customers with problems with their roaming coverage.

We can only speculate why Sprint roaming would be deteriorating. The change to preferring Alltel should have made things better and Verizon's acquisition of most Alltel sites should improve it even more. Sprint phones will not choose the carrier with the best signal, but rather the signal that costs them the least in roaming fees. This could cause your Sprint phone to hold a weaker signal longer than you'd like, but it shouldn't be any worse coverage than that experienced by an Alltel or Verizon customer. It makes us conclude that this is just one more dark cloud that hangs over the heads of the Sprint/Nextel. For the time being, we'll give Sprint the benefit of the doubt.

In the future, possibly a year from now, some Alltel sites will disappear and will be replaced by nearby Verizon sites...another change...and maybe new dead spots. With the loss of Alltel, Verizon will still maintain Sprint's roaming possibilities, but what happens when their roaming agreements expire and there is only one CDMA roaming carrier available, and it's an 800-pound gorilla? We'll roam across that bridge when we get to it.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think some of the issues are coming from US Cellular's recent ascent in the Sprint PRL's. I am under the impression that Sprint roaming now uses the USCC 1900 mhz network in many areas where they used to roam on Verizon and Alltel 850 mhz networks.
With regards to the Alltel/Sprint Roaming contract I believe there are seven years left in the contract so we Sprint users are safe for awhile.

David said...

Sprint has also begun removing the "roaming only" option from its phones. On older phones the user could elect to manually switch the phone to roaming if the Sprint signal strength was not to their liking. Now the Sprint user must cope with using a weak signal as the phone will not roam until there is absolutely no Sprint signal available.

Benjamin A said...

Actually Sprint has preferred Alltel over Verizon since June of 2006 when PRL 10033 was released but the USCC change took place a little over a year ago. US Cellular is preferred over Verizon making cities like Chicago and St. Luis 1900MHZ first priority roaming areas and leaving Verizon only for those times where USCC finally drops, but Alltel is still preferred in places like Appleton WI where both Alltel and US exist.

On the topic of removing the option to force roam it will be a sad loss but considering AT&T (Cingular) removed it when they started pushing the GSM network in 2004 and Verizon has all but hid it in secret menus its not a big shock but with Sprint it was more needed with their service as CDMA PCS 0 bar fringe signals hold on worse than anything I have seen. This looks to be another self inflicted stab caused by their own knife. Whats coming next a 25% roaming limit!

Ian said...

I have Sprint and I'm still able to roam on Verizon and Alltel signals as needed. Alltel roaming is nice (while it lasts and isn't gobbled up by AT&T or Verizon) because data roaming is full EvDO (albeit still Rev. 0 in some areas if I remember correctly). Alltel has a solid network, so I would tend to pass the buck to USCC when it comes to stories of lousy roaming.

Next to Five Star Wireless, the local carrier in my area who has converted to a GSM network due to being acquired by West Central Wireless but has kept their CDMA network online for roamers, Alltel is the best voice roaming partner I've used, and it's far and away the best data roaming partner.

About roam-only, if you have a Windows Mobile phone I have a glimmer of hope for you. My HTC Mogul used to have Roam Only (as did my STi Mobile LG PM-225, though roam-only rendered the Sprint-network-only plan inoperable), something that even my parents' Verizon-based Nokia 2126i Tracfones lack. Then a firmware upgrade came and it disappeared. There was no such option to start with on my HTC Touch Pro...until I downloaded a registry edit to re-enable the option. My phone is now happily roam-only when needed. I'll host and link the file here shortly (I'm in the air as I type this reply and Southwest hasn't outfitted this plane with Row44 yet).

On the flip side of things, I'm a bit worried about Sprint roaming a few years down the road. Verizon will have the lion's share of CDMA roaming territory, a good thing for Verizon customers but a bad thing for everyone else on CDMA carriers. I'd expect Verizon to keep data roaming for other providers at 1xRTT speeds, and to drive harder bargains with local CDMA carriers who want to give their customers national plans.

I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Sprint was the first national carrier to go back to "network" plans that charged extra for roaming. I'd probably stick with Sprint anyway; I use less than ten roaming minutes per month on average. But that's assuming Sprint sticks around for seven years; I hope it does but things may or may not play out that way.