Friday, July 31, 2009

Small Carriers to the Rescue

Our last article, reflecting our worries about reduced roaming capabilities, struck a cord among several users, including a few who posted here on the blog. Of their biggest concerns are the potential loss of roaming on the major carriers, most notably AT&T and Verizon Wireless. One of the bright spots we did not point out was the fact that there are several small carriers who are filling a handful of these voids and may become critically important.

Cricket's latest coverage map shows available roaming in some surprisingly remote locations, and a lack of coverage in some mainstream locales. Further review shows Cricket depending on some extremely small carriers like Farmers Mutual Telephone Company of Idaho, and Strata Networks in the states surrounding northeast Utah, and less roaming on Verizon or Sprint. Using a T-Mobile phone showed some pleasant surprises with roaming on Viaero Wireless in Nebraska and Colorado, and Cellular one of Texahoma. Another player who may see gains as a roaming partner is Commnet Wireless who supplies coverage to both CDMA and GSM customers and focuses on coverage in "surprising" locations.

These small carriers have become an important part of the roaming mix. Some of them are doing very well as they provide a much better choice for local users. Others are slipping downhill, likely due to a lack of local promotion and forward-thinking service. Over the years, we have posted articles in praise of the small regional carriers (the most recent on March 9th), mostly because of what they offer the Local user. Now, it's what they offer all of us.

More than ever before, I heartily encourage you to consider these smaller cellular companies for your cellular service. Most of us do not have these great alternatives available, however many do have that choice in suburbs of some large cities and don't even know it. Always include them when considering a new carrier. We'll keep our data base up to date so you can include them in your decision. Our roaming future may depend on it!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is nice to know that there are still some smaller "hole in the wall" rural carriers out there still providing competitive alternatives to the national carriers. Verizon and AT&T are both well run phone companies-there's a reason they have as many subscribers as they do. But there are many people who do not need the broad, expansive services (and higher monthly rates in accordance) that they provide. Companies such as the newer Cellular One(s), Centennial, and Cellular South usually offer more extensive coverage within their service areas than the national carriers, and most of these companies have national plans that wind up giving you better coverage overall. I wish there were local carriers in my area; but alas no such luck for me yet. I've got the Cricket's and Metro Pcs's of the world, which imho aren't catered to "typical average users" like myself, who don't like their home calling area crippled to a few acres.

Anonymous said...

Most of the roaming issues that are coming down the road in 4-5 years will grow even more complicated as carriers like Verizon and Sprint keep expanding 4g networks. I do not know how Sprint's WiMax 4g works, but to my understanding, Verizon's future 4g LTE networks combine voice and data. Anyone feel free to correct me if i'm wrong on this btw. So if Verizon goes totally 4g, what happens to roaming capabilities if they shut down their 2g network? If the other big three carriers follow suit, what happens to the roaming capabilities of these local carriers offering basic services? They in turn will have no one to turn to, which is the opposite of everyone's fears.

Ian said...

About 4G, the current 4G techs are data-only, though you can certainly run VoIP over them.

Regarding local carriers, here in the Texas hill country there's one major local carrier: West Central Wireless, which operates under the Five Star Wireless brand around here. They've been around in some form from the beginning, starting with an analog network, then switching to TDMA, CDMA and now GSM (CDMA is still available to roamers, and is honestly a better-quality network than WCW's GSM in this area).

Data speeds are slow on WCW GSM, even though they have EDGE deployed everywhere, however voice coverage and quality are pretty much perfect.

THe company no longer resells service to Tracfone (they used to in the TDMA days...my dad's first cell phone was a Nokia 1221 that I specially ordered from Tracfone because it ran on the TDMA tech on FSW's network) however they do offer a relatively competitive unlimited-minutes offering, a la CricKet and MetroPCS. Pricing ranges from $25 (local calling only, zero extra features) to $50 (local, long distance, all calling features, text messaging), with a $40 plan that includes everything but long distance. Decent deal, considering WCW's rather extensive coverage area.

Another nice thing around here is that T-Mobile (including prepaid) will roam on AT&T and sometimes even West Central, depending on what coverage is available. For some reason T-Mobile roaming on WCW results on longer call connection times, at least on my iPhone, but the service still works.

Ian said...

Also, here's a BIG local-carrier success story: Pocket Communications.

The San Antonio-based provider basically crosses MetroPCS/CricKet with Texas...that's the best way I can describe it. Lots of towers to make sure everywhere is covered. Great customer service. No collusion with other carriers, just competition. Pretty sure CricKet hates their guts; CricKet pricing is significantly lower in Pocket markets to compete, so I guess that that Pocket is carrying out their old slogan of "Giving the big boys hell 24/7" quite well.

Pocket isn't afraid to compete with anybody, leat of all CricKet. In their newest area expansion (Corpus Christi), they're running full-page ads bashing CricKet's lousy coverage and promoting their own company. Which is absolutely great, since everyone knows they're absolutely correct about CricKet's lackluster voice network.

Pricing-wise, I defy anyone to find any cell carrier who will sell you unlimited local, long distance, text and picture messaging, including caller ID, for $25 per month outside of the CricKet-Pocket competitive zone. You can barely even get that kind of deal on mainline VoIP service, let alone on a regular landline.

I've used Pocket and was happy with it, though I switched to Sprint because Pocket doesn't serve Colorado and at the time CricKet didn't serve Fredericksburg, TX. I've used CricKet in their Pocket-competitive market and I understand why 300,000-plus Pocket customers would choose the local company over the California-based one: CricKet's coverage is subpar, Pocket's is fair at worst, perfect at best.