Friday, October 30, 2009

Old Phones: Good for 911?

Should we encourage, or even mention the idea of depending on a deactivated wireless phone for 911-only calls? When I was putting together the new Cellular For Seniors web site, I asked my colleagues for ideas, and used them all. One, however, has caused a big disagreement. They asked me to write about it because I sit pretty much in the middle.

Bill thinks keeping an old cellular phone charged and available for 911 calls is practical, and, in the case of some users like Seniors, a potential life-saver. Mike, on the other hand, says depending on a phone like that, especially for Seniors, is a bad idea. He claims it's a false security due to the fact that is probably a cast-off phone that the Senior has absolutely no experience operating. I agree with that somewhat because I have a brother-in-law who has a normal cellular phone that he often claims it has a dead battery when he actually can't figure out how to turn it on.

Bill states "it's better than nothing." A Senior, or any user with no cellular phone, is better off to have something, even if it has a less than 100% chance of working. In consideration of Mike's objections, I added to that part of the site that an old phone is not as reliable as one that is used often enough to know the basics. After all, light users like Seniors could keep a regular wireless phone for just a few dollars a month. Dare I say they're both right?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sprint Welcomes Google - We Get Call Forwarding

Sprint has been riding on the open development bandwagon with new invitations to application ideas that will further the use of their network. One such move has opened a useful door to all Sprint users: free Call Forwarding. Until now, Sprint Call Forwarding of all kinds cost us .20 per minute. With the idea that Google Voice voice mail works with existing wireless and wireline numbers, Sprint realized there is a need to make Call Forwarding more user-friendly.

There's still no totally free lunch. "Immediate" Call Forwarding, where you program the forward-to number into your phone and it forwards right away, will still be charged the .20 per minute fee. Beginning in mid-November, "Conditional" Call Forwarding, which forwards if you don't answer or you're talking to another party, will now forward for free. This encourages us to actually use our Sprint phone more as serious business line, or as our only home phone line.

It's great to see Sprint as a leader in this area of development, and not only do we hope it encourages other carriers to follow suit...so does Sprint! Yes. They hope that developers create applications that work across all wireless networks. It's one more reason why we need to keep Sprint hangin' in there. 'Now' is good.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why Do You Hide Your Coverage?

“Your network has such great coverage, why do you have such lousy coverage maps?” That was a question we posed to Verizon Wireless just a few years ago, and somebody eventually agreed. Now they’re better, but still not the best.

Recently we asked that same question to a small regional cellular carrier in the Midwest. They have great coverage, but they refuse to show it for “competitive reasons.” I got a great laugh later while visiting one of that network’s competitors and seeing a big wall map showing the coverage and cell sites of all the carriers in the area! So much for hiding coverage from the competition!

We have been trying to convince this regional carrier to show their coverage on their web site, or at least let us post it on www.cellularmaps.com. They sent us a detailed map, but told us not to post it (then why send it?). When I went to file it, I discovered a 2005 press release with a map heralding the coverage of this same network. It has gotten better since then, but now they hide it. Why? We posted the old map and those from the FCC until this carrier decides to exercise their bragging rights, and if they do, we’ll help them...and even tell you their name! We’re working on it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

PRL Text

You may have wondered what happened to our most recent Preferred Roaming List (PRL) “Interpretations” that appear on our PRL pages of the Roamingzone. It seems our interpreters have "retired." To create an accurate text of these lists takes quite a bit of work, and so far, that work has been entirely voluntary.

When those who interpret the PRL as a hobby find something else to do, the rest of us go scrambling for another source…but there isn’t any. We have offered these PRL volunteers the full control of one of our web sites, only to watch them create their own. The sad result is that once that happens, they lose interest…and we lose our source.

There are a handful of users who take the time to save and even post the actual .prl file, but for most of us, they’re just a list of meaningless numbers. We even offered to pay to have PRL’s decoded, but once the fun is over, it becomes too much like a job. And we understand that. We have considered at least posting the raw lists so that serious PRL fans can at least look at the order of things and look for their favorite System ID (SID). We hate to just leave you with so little detail, but I guess you can always decide whether it’s useful.

Let’s just hope the process hasn’t been interrupted by the carriers who don’t want the data made public. No conspiracy theorists, here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Roaming With No Analog-and No Service

BillRadio is out roaming the west again, and he tried to call from one of those remote areas where not even the antelope play very often. Bill was the advocate of keeping your analog phone until the last analog signal faded away, and in this case, it has.

Forced to digital-only phones, and digital-only cell sites, most of that stretch of I-70 from Green River to Salina, Utah now has absolutely no cellular coverage. There used to be analog if you really tried. I can see Bill standing on the roof of his car just to make sure…”Can you hear me now?” Nope. Its 70 miles of interstate and no cell service.

A few years ago the state of Utah asked several carriers to consider the area for cellular coverage, and the reply was a very polite, “No.” Of course you and I know it’s possible. Solar power, multiple-hop microwave and bear-proof fences can make it happen, but can it make money? Apparently not. And Utah didn’t offer to pay…at least not yet. The best thing you can take with you there is advice: “don’t go there if you break down.” But it'll be a nice way to meet your fellow travelers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cell Phones for Seniors

We just finished up another wireless web site; this one is specifically designed for the fastest growing group of cellular users: Seniors. Before you think this subject doesn’t apply to you, think about your family. There must be at least one person you know over 50 who, up ‘til now, has resisted going wireless. Yet, this may be a group who needs it more.

You can spread the word about how much help cellular can be to seniors in your family. One of the services that caters to the senior set, Jitterbug, even has nurses on call to assist with customer health problems. It's quite revolutionary for Jitterbug to introduce an old-school Operator for their users, and now they’ve gone further. Customer Service, What a concept!

Another easy idea to help an older relative or friend is to add them to your Family Plan. It could cost as little as $10 a month, and in most cases, you won’t notice what few minutes they use. With most Family plans, you can call each other with no use of your minutes. If nothing else, send ‘em our way, to Cellular For Seniors.com.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Union Wireless Upgrades

Every few months we get an email from a zealous PR person telling us "your review of so and so wireless is way wrong." In many cases, the reason for that is that we depend heavily on what each carrier shows on their web site, and they don't always keep it updated. The latest carrier taking exception to our information is Union Wireless based in Wyoming. Union gets a thumbs up with us and they admit their latest material isn't posted online, yet. So, we handed over this page to let them share what's new in Wyoming:

Union Telephone began wireless service in 1990 under the name of Union Cellular with eight cell sites which has grown to more than 300 cell sites in Wyoming, northwest Colorado, and northeast Utah. There are plans for 25 new cell sites in Laramie County by the end of the year, with sites along highway 59 from Douglas to Gillette, throughout Albany County and more, in 2010.

The company has negotiated roaming agreements with other GSM carriers, creating a wireless footprint that covers more area of the continental U.S. than any one of the large wireless companies. In some areas, Union is the only provider available. Union has negotiated international roaming agreements with GSM wireless providers in many foreign countries. Union also offers "Telular" service, a landline replacement system that uses wireless service connected to home wiring for those wishing to disconnect from landlines or in places where landlines are not available.

Union features National Calling Plans starting at under $30, with no roaming or long-distance charges including a larger bucket of minutes than plans offered by competing companies. Other plans and options mirror that of much larger national companies including unlimited calling to and from any 10 numbers, any network, landlines included; FREE Unlimited Night and Weekend Minutes - from and to anywhere in the country; Talk, Text Internet and Unlimited calling plans.

Friday, October 9, 2009

AT&T Unlimited for $60

AT&T has fired another shot in the Unlimited wars as the AT&T GoPhone will offer an Unlimited Talk & Text plan for $60 a month, starting Monday, October 12. There are Unlimited plans at $40 with carriers like MetroPCS and Cricket, and T-Mobile and Boost Mobile compete at the $50 level, with more features. So, at $60 a month, the AT&T plan shouldn't attract that many price-shoppers, unless of course you really want AT&T. Of course this doesn't include the iPhone.

The good news? This move might some carriers might lower their Unlimited prices just to stay in the price-cutting news. The bad news? It may mean that the day MetroPCS and Cricket will merge draws closer, or more disturbing, a few other really small carriers, who had hoped their Unlimited offerings would keep them competitive, will slip out of favor.

We said it here almost 5 years ago when we started this blog, Unlimited is the evolution of wireless, but the price may be too high. We can't afford to lose any more carriers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

AT&T Opens the VoIP Door to iPhone

AT&T gave in to the inevitable and will allow the iPhone to make VoIP calls. They needed to look long and hard at an App that allows iPhone callers to bypass the AT&T network for long distance calls beyond the US, but if they didn't, something else would. Sure, AT&T might lose some revenue on LD, but they will probably make it back with additional usage at the other end.

This is one case where AT&T saw the writing on the wall, and we're glad they did. However, this is an iPhone-only function, and I'm sure they'll drag their feet on making it available to other users. This also means products like Skype go mobile.

But it's only one alternative for free or very cheap international long distance calls for wireless customers. It's already available to those of us who just add a prepaid LD card to our cellular phone book, or just use TracFone's free international access. Can you believe some wireless carriers charge .65 per minute for calls to Mexico? How long can that last?

Friday, October 2, 2009

iPhone irate? Get Your Credit Here!

Through the summer, AT&T customers have been grumbling about dropped calls and lost data. As we reported just a few weeks ago, AT&T was slowly starting to admit there may be a few problems, with most reports blaming data-hogging iPhones for maxing out the AT&T network. Sadly, the cure is not a different phone model, but to just leave.

An article in our local media highlights what some AT&T customers are doing, and how the carriers are responding. T-Mobile credited at least one AT&T expatriate $150 to help pay the AT&T Early Termination Fee. Another unhappy AT&T camper got a $20 monthly credit from AT&T while they muddle through their network upgrades, which, in this case, means taking entire cell sites off the air for a significant period.

Neither AT&T, T-Mobile or any other carrier will confirm they are actually helping any customers with credits and discounts, but if you are tired of dropped calls and data with AT&T, there seems to be room for negotiation, and you don't know what you'll get until you ask. Don't expect a quick offer, you may need to be persistent. And keep in mind, AT&T will eventually work out these problems and you might be going through the ETF process all over again to come back. If you don't have luck making your escape, we list ways to cancel your contract, which may still require some time commitment.