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 place...no 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.

Friday, September 29, 2017

T-Mobile Takes Over iWireless in Iowa

This is pretty much a non-story since iWireless in Iowa has always looked, tasted, and smelled like a twin of T-Mobile. This will result in a few slight improvements for Iowa customers in the short term and eventually better coverage in rural Iowa.  Prepaid plans should get better and T-Mobile will start to upgrade the network to even more 4G - LTE using their newly-acquired 600 and 700 MHz spectrum.


The only downside we can find is that dealing with iWireless was a bit more personal as you were dealing with local people, but T-Mobile will also open more Iowa stores.  There's also the end of confusion of the iWireless name with Kroger.  The net result is better for the Hawkeye state.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

More Dirt Cheap Plans

At the beginning of the year we reported on the absolute, lowest-cost plans available in wireless.  Since then there have actually been improvements in these dirt cheap prices.  Most of the changes involve getting more for your money, but several of these providers have actually lowered some of their prices:

  • TWIGBY
    Here's a new player to us with a usable plan with UNLIMITED Text and 200 Minutes Talk for only $9.  Add small chunks of additional Talk or Data for correspondingly low prices.  Twigby mostly uses the Sprint network but also includes Talk and Text on Verizon Wireless when you're outside Sprint coverage.
  • T-MOBILE UNLIMITED FOR $30!
    This is a secret plan for special friends of the Noise:  Get ALL of T-Mobile's radical features for 2 people for only $60/month with No other fees attached!  Here's the catch: you need to be 55 or over to get the plan.  If you don't qualify, it's something to look forward to.
  • T-MOBILE FOR $3 
    They may not be the cheapest, but their $3/month plan is still one of the lowest-cost ways to keep in touch, although when you pay a small price, expect a small plan.  The upside is that "extras" won't break the bank, either.
  • TELLO
    Tello still lets you construct your plan to whittle it down to a minimum price, $9 for a plan with some Talk, Text and Data.  They normally offer incentives to get you to sign up such as a month of FREE Data or 15% of your initial purchase with the Coupon Code: 15OFFAFF.  Larger Tello plans have had their prices recently reduced big time, some over 28% less.  They also have doubled their 5GB of Data at the same rate. (Some of these promotions start in October)
  • FREEDOMPOP
    The leader in cheap wireless still has plans that start at FREE.  Freedompop also now offers a hefty 2GB package for only $10.

There are still some other low-cost options, but these are the ones that made some recent improvements.  We also need to tell you we have a marketing relationship with these carriers (as we do with almost all carriers) and that we didn't get paid for this post and never do.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Reviewing the Reviewers

We operate over a dozen web sites, each based on a specific wireless theme.  We recently moved our "front door" back to our first web site, MountainWireless.net.  While many of our pages provide a review of each cellular specialty, we never provided a review of these reviews...until now.  This page gives you a thumbnail report of what is available among our individual wireless web sites.  If you like one of our sites, you'll probably like one of the others.


On MountainWireless.net you'll also find a Search Tool to wade through our hundreds of pages as well as our Wireless News section.  As part of online evolution, we have gone through the birth and death of web sites based on material that was hot one day and cold the next.  So this review page is quite dynamic as the popularity of each subject rises and falls. Expect it to change weekly.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lost Carriers in Montana, North Dakota & Tennessee

Three more wireless carriers have exited the cellular business.  DTC Wireless, east of Nashville, has stopped offering cell phones and is now using their network for fixed wireless for broadband Internet access.  DTC has a good network and should be able to offer a quality wireless product.

In Montana, Big Sky Mobile has discontinued service.  We're not sure if the network was operational but they have agreed to sell their licenses to T-Mobile which is waiting FCC approval.  The phone number at Big Sky has been disconnected but they continue to post on Facebook.  With this acquisition, T-Mobile has the potential for a substantial presence in Montana along with their newly-acquired 600 and 700 MHz licenses.


Also, serving both sides of the border between Montana and North Dakota, SRT Wireless of Minot has discontinued offering wireless phones and has sold their cellular network to Verizon Wireless.  Verizon plans to upgrade the SRT sites to 4G-LTE. If you have an SRT iPhone, you'll need to get it unlocked at one of the SRT stores before you can switch it to Verizon.  Fortunately, SRT will stay in business providing their other communications products, but make sure you switch before the end of the year.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Better Wireless Coverage for the Eclipse

Here is a full list of the towns the four major carriers will be boosting coverage either through network upgrades or through adding mobile cell sites:
AT&T
Madras, Oregon
Mitchell, Oregon
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Glendo Reservoir, Wyoming
Carbondale, Illinois
Columbia, Missouri
Owensville, Missouri
Washington, Missouri
Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Beatrice, Nebraska
Verizon
Madras, Oregon
Bend, Oregon
Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Sprint
Rexburg, Idaho
Silverton, Oregon
Madras, Oregon
Brownsville, Oregon
T-Mobile (key markets)
Madras, Oregon
Snake River Valley, Idaho
Carbondale, Illinois
Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Keep in mind, in the event of an emergency, Text Messaging is the most reliable form of communication.

Originally we were headed to Glendo, WY, but now that the word is out, we will be at an undisclosed location somewhere east of there...or west of there.  We will not be using any Interstate highways and instead of phones we will communicate by ham radio.  We're anticipating that the warnings about impassable roads, throngs of people and scarce supplies will cause everyone else to stay home and watch the eclipse on their phones (or TV?) instead.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

T-Mobile Toots Their Horn, But We Can't Hear It...Yet

T-Mobile has already started to use their newly-assigned 600 MHz spectrum:

"BELLEVUE, Wash.-- Damn that was fast. T-Mobile today announced it has begun lighting up its new 600 MHz LTE network — leveraging the massive haul of super-premium low-band spectrum won in the government broadcast incentive auction concluded earlier this year. The announcement comes only two months after the Un-carrier received its spectrum licenses from the FCC. T-Mobile’s first 600 MHz LTE network sites — the very first in the world — were just switched on in Cheyenne, Wyoming using Nokia equipment. Starting in rural America and other markets where the spectrum is clear of broadcasting today, T-Mobile plans to deploy the new super-spectrum at record-shattering pace — compressing what would normally be a two-year process from auction to consumer availability into a short six months.


"T-Mobile today also shared additional details of its 600 MHz LTE network rollout. This year alone, additional 600 MHz sites are slated for locations including Wyoming, Northwest Oregon, West Texas, Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, Western North Dakota, Maine, Coastal North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Central Virginia and Eastern Washington. Those deployments and other network upgrades will help the Un-carrier increase total LTE coverage from 315 million Americans today to 321 million by year’s end."

What's the catch?  There are no 600 MHz-capable handsets available...yet.  There will be, probably by the end of the year.  This is indeed an aggressive expansion and could be a game changer within a very short time.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

T-Mobile Respects Their Elders

As we watched the numbers of our Cellular Seniors web site, our site that specializes in senior wireless plans and phones, decline, we noted that today's "senior" has already been using cell phones for years.  They don't need someone to cater to their 'special' wireless needs...unless the carriers show up with a usable deal.  T-Mobile has come up with that deal, one that seniors can actually use.

T-Mobile's latest press release pokes fun at the competition who offer, "dumbed-down ‘senior’ plans with exactly zero data and — get this — night and weekend minutes!"  We pretty much wrote off these plans years ago and instead put a focus on how to get the lowest-cost service that a senior could receive some benefit.  T-Mobile's new "ONE Unlimited 55+" plan does the same thing.  Give those of us who don't actually live on our cell phone a plan we can actually use.

Here's what you get with this plan, just for not being a millennial:


With T-Mobile ONE Unlimited 55+, it’s just $50 for the first line of T-Mobile ONE and $10 for your second line with unlimited everything after $5 per line Autopay discount. Taxes & fees included.


T-Mobile ONE 55+ includes these other benefits at no extra cost:

  • Simple Global: unlimited text and data roaming and low flat-rate calling in 140+ countries and destinations
  • Gogo Inflight: get unlimited texting all flight long and 1 free hour of smartphone Wi-Fi on all Gogo-equipped domestic flights
  • DIGITS: use your T-Mobile number on compatible phones, tablets and PCs, and use multiple numbers on one device
  • Mobile Hotspot: connect all your devices to the Internet with included tethering data
  • Un-Contract: only you have the power to change the price you pay
  • T-Mobile Tuesdays: get thanked with free stuff every week just for being a customer

55 is fairly young for a age-based discount.  We won't tell you to take the deal, but it's worth putting on our reading glasses and look at it!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

GoPhone Becomes AT&T Prepaid

Goodbye GoPhone. This means we'll need to review new AT&T offers and promotions, and there will be some, and it looks like the GoPhone name will disappear and you'll wonder what happened to it.  For now, it looks like AT&T Prepaid will be about the same product, but it also looks like AT&T will be competing a bit more aggressively against other prepaid products, including their own Cricket brand.


We'll alert you if AT&T Prepaid offers some really hot discounts, but we are not permitted to do that directly here on the Wireless Noise news page, so we'll post them among our Daily Wireless Deals and on our Mountain Prepaid site.  Welcome to the next phase of prepaid.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Xfinity Finally Responds

Yesterday we tried to raise some dust by claiming that Xfinity Mobile does not give you Free data access when using their own Xfinity Wi-Fi network.  Our objective wasn't to condemn Xfinity Mobile, it was to expose how poorly the Terms of Service are written and how unprepared they are to respond to new customers.  Today, 3 days after our first inquiry, we received a response that all data access is indeed Free on Xfinity Wi-Fi, and all Talk and Text (in the US) is indeed unlimited.

There are a few weak spots in the Xfinity product such as not being able to bring your own phone (common among "Wi-Fi first" carriers), and the lack of "Wi-Fi Calling".  That means that when using your Xfinity phone outside the US you can only make calls through the local foreign roaming network, not broadband and not Wi-Fi.  The real possibilites remain to be seen in the hands of actual users.


To Xfinity's benefit, the response to their new mobile product has been heavy and that means people like what they see, possibly with some value given to the fact that you must belong to the Xfinity "Club" before you can sign up for Xfinity Mobile.  Also, we have found there are some "public" Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots which make their own network somewhat more available, but a trip to the park usually puts you back on the Verizon Cellular network.  Comcast gets credit for trying something new and we'll watch how this shakes out.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Xfinity Mobile: What's Missing?

We have reviewed each page of their web site, read all the disclosures and added up their plans.  We just don't see how Xfinity Mobile can save us money.  The terms say nothing about free Wi-Fi, therefore, you should be charged whether or not your phone is using Wi-Fi or the Verizon Wireless network.  Since you must be a Xfinity Internet customer, you are already being charged for Data.  If you were not an Xfinity Mobile customer, and using any other cellular carrier (or an inactive smartphone), your Wi-Fi data would be Free...right?

Let's say we're wrong about that.  Let's also consider that you can't bring your own phone, you can be "throttled" (after 20GB) on Wi-Fi and all voice calls are completed on Verizon Wireless. What's the point?  We weren't going to give Xfinity Mobile a Mountain Wireless Rating until it had been field tested by fellow users.  Other "Wi-Fi first" services aren't as reliable as cellular-first carriers, but we thought we'd give Xfinity the benefit of the doubt.


If what we read is true (and we'll allow that someone made a big mistake when writing the rules), we're hard pressed to even give them a "2" rating, the second lowest.  Xfinity Mobile charges $65 for their Unlimited plan ($45 promotional price during July).  But if I spent $45 for Straight Talk Wireless, I would get access to "Unlimited" Data (throttled after 8GB) on the Verizon Wireless network, be able to bring my own phone and use my Xfinity Wi-Fi for FREE.  What's missing?  A clue: One of their web pages says, "With access to 16 million XFINITY WiFi hotspots, you can do what you love on your phone without adding to your 4G LTE data usage."  Does this mean Wi-Fi is Free?  No.  We'd ask but Customer Service is closed right now.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

We Won't Talk About Sprint's Free Plans

Sprint has sort-of announced they will offer a certain number of Unlimited lines for FREE.  Instead of spending a bunch of money advertising this rather generous promotion, they're hoping its ridiculous nature will get people with blogs and news web sites to talk about it and help it go viral.  Well that ain't gonna happen here.


Sprint does need to do something to get noticed and Free is always a good gimmick.  There are some limitations to these Unlimiteds, but it's worth looking into.  Make your decision before the end of the month before Sprint comes up with another outlandish proposal.  Be careful, sometimes FREE isn't cheap enough, but don't miss an opportunity that looks too good to be true.

Fortunately, we won't be suckered into talking about these Free plans.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dish Wireless: The Invisible Network

Dish does not operate a wireless network of their own but they possess one of the largest assignments of wireless spectrum.  They have notified the FCC of plans that include the date of a required buildout and what type of network they will construct.  Their notification indicates they will construct a nationwide network to serve the IoT (Internet of Things) market that they project will grow from 17 Billion devices currently to over 75 Billion devices within the next 8 years.  This has the potential of being a network that most of us will use, but won't have the opportunity, or the need, to sign up for.  This Dish Wireless network may be connected to all our new wireless gadgets that could include our autonomous cars or, the Next Big Thing.


Of course this could all be smoke and mirrors.  Most likely, the existing cellular networks will have the capacity to connect all the IoT devices.  Critics say Dish is just buying time until someone comes to the table and buys all their spectrum.  We hope they do build a new network, even if we never know when we're using it, but we fear we'll lose one of our current major carriers before they can get a new one built.  We'll share updates as we find them here at the Wireless Noise.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Do They Have Their Own Network?

We already know about the carriers that use "The same network at half the price," but we discovered a few small networks that sold their network and didn't tell you.  This isn't some devious plan to fool us, it's just another question you have to ask when you sign up with one of our favored local carriers.  I now ask, "Do you have your own network?"  The answer should be something like, "Sure, we have 56 cell sites," or the like, and you move on from there.

In most cases, when one of these small carriers decides to discontinue service, they just disappear and the "wireless department" is let go.  In a growing number of others, the wireless people in the office are still there and still sell phones and plans, but the network has been turned over to someone else.  These carriers become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator or "MVNO" and, unless you ask, will continue to present themselves as the "local" carrier.


In some cases this is just fine.  We like MVNO's and they often come up with better prices.  A few don't.  Some of these carriers keep the local Customer Service staff and may be more responsive to local customers than the national carriers using far-away service agents.  So it's not a bad thing.  When we discover a network that has turned over their physical network to somebody else, we delete them from the Mountain Wireless Carrier Reviews and add them to the "Same Network, Different Carrier" List.  Just don't be afraid to ask, "Do you have your own network."  We ask on a regular basis.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wireless with Bravado in Oklahoma

"Bravado" is defined as a swaggering display of courage.  Courage in wireless is required to keep your small carrier competitive, and Bravado Wireless is the new name for Oklahoma's former Sprocket Wireless.  It's great to see a small carrier continue to provide wireless service to their community and a name change confirms that they're committing to the future.  Bravado is part of the Cross Telephone Company who also operates Cross Wireless a few miles down the road.


For some reason, Oklahoma has quite an assortment of independent wireless carriers in a state where Verizon Wireless is not dominant and US Cellular serves one of their largest gaggles of customers.  As a result. we maintain a separate Oklahoma page among the Mountain Wireless Reviews.  Bravado is involved in their community and we applaud their new direction.  The "gear" theme of Sprocket was cool but a name change catches our attention and locals should stand behind them.  Hey, why not change the name of Cross Wireless to Bravado as well?  Too much?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

US Cellular Perks Up Prepaid

A month ago we criticized US Cellular for having lousy Prepaid plans which, in turn, gave their current customers no place to go if they wanted to get a better wireless value.  Well, a few days later Randy and Deanna emailed me to share their new Prepaid plans!  While they aren't the cheapest, they're very good on a very good network.  First, their plan for your Prepaid "Basic" Phone starts at $25/month.  Next, their new Prepaid smartphone plans start at $35/month!  They also have a Prepaid "Unlimited" Data plan for $70/month, that automatically shifts to 2GB speeds when the line reaches 22GB.

                             RELATED: US Cellular Unleashes Unlimited


We are reminded that a "switch" from somewhere else is implied (does that mean current US Cellular customers can't get this plan?), a New Simple Connect Plan is required, additional restrictions apply, and "while supplies last."  Maybe the lawyers asked them to include all that, but what "supplies" will not last?  Plans? Refills? If they want us to get off the fence they just need to say "available for a limited time," but that may not be the case.  We hope it's not...because we need US Cellular to stay in the hunt.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fix Your Smartphone

I had to fix mine, maybe you do, too.

Fix #1: Delete Old Texts, Call Logs & Emails:
This should be done on a regular basis, not just if you're having problems..

Fix #2: Clear the Phone's App Cache
Remove excess non-essential information that may be slowing down your phone by clearing the phone's app cache. To do this, go to:

  • Settings
  • Applications
  • All
  • Select Apps
  • Clear Cache
Fix #3: Check Your Phone's Memory Card
Your phone may have too small of a memory card.  You may be able to replace it with a larger card, some phones can handle cards up to 32GB. Then, make sure all apps that can be saved to a memory card are saved to the card rather than to your phone.

Fix #4: Delete Old Apps You are No Longer Using
Many apps are using resources even when you're not using them.

Fix #5: Turn Off Your Phone Occasionally
Turn off your phone (and then turn it back on) at least once a week, once every other day would be better, every day isn't too often. Like computers, a smartphone operates better after it has been rebooted. This is especially true if you're entering/exiting your home coverage area.  Data services perform much better after a restart! From time to time it would make sense to pull the battery out, if you can.  This totally resets the system and memory without losing any data.

Fix #6: Don't Keep You Phone in the Fridge
Seriously, phones don't like temperature extremes. Don't leave your phone sitting in a hot or cold car for a long period of time. The change in temperature and humidity when bringing it back into a heated or air conditioned building can create condensation that can cause corrosion and other problems that may damage your phone's internal parts.

Fix #7: Get Better Versions of Your Most-Used Apps
Consider buying the paid version of these apps. The free versions can make your phone slower & battery drain faster due to ads that are constantly downloading and tracking software that may running continuously.

Fix #8: Up Your Apps
Make sure the apps in your phone were created by a reputable developer and have a good rating in the store for your device. Remove any that don't. You may have an app that could be hurting your phone's performance & compromising your security. Avoid using an app with less than a 3 star rating. Also, if you notice a sudden decrease in performance, delete the most recently-downloaded apps.  One of them may be causing an  issue.

Fix #9: Use a Task Killer
You can manually turn off apps, learn how to do it in your phone.  You can also use an Advanced Task Killer app.  Make sure it is properly downloaded and set up correctly. This will kill apps running in the background, improving performance.

Fix #10: Read the Manual
Yes, this may the most painful step to take, but your phone's manual could address issues you may be having and how to prevent other problems.  Manuals can be downloaded online.

Fix #11: If You Still Have Problems, Start Over
If you’ve tried these steps and your smartphone is still acting up, you can do a factory reset. This will clear the phone’s information and switch it back to the original factory settings.  Careful, this will wipe your phone clean of everything you added.  There are online resources to back up your phone directory and critical data before taking this drastic step.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Viya Covers USVI on Combined Networks

Last fall we reported on Choice Wireless of US Virgin Islands acquiring Innovative Mobile.  That looks like a pretty good idea.  Then they changed the name of the combined network to Viya Mobile.  That's looks a pretty good idea, too.


The Caribbean isn't quite as exciting as the mainland markets, but with Choice Wireless expanding by acquisition, it's great to see small carriers getting together in the fight for survival.  This also means visitors to the islands should also have better service.  Viva la Viya!

Monday, May 8, 2017

We Had to Give Back Your States

With so many pages among the Mountain Wireless Cellular Networks (well over 500) we cut back our state review pages because fewer people cared, or seemed to, on such locally-based information.  Then we got a sudden demand for the old pages and found that nobody wanted the new "compact" reviews.


Once upon a time we had a web page dedicated to each state and the cellular carriers that operate in them.  As the carriers consolidated, each state's page began to look like the others.  So we consolidated the state reports into one set of pages, and the actual carrier reports to another.  Suddenly we had readers looking for the entire rundown in their state (or a state where they would be traveling),  not just some generic list.  Our reviews provide some of the only details available for the smallest carriers in the US and it turned out to be a resource still in demand.

I had Scott look in his files for the old reviews but most of them had to be reconstructed.  Some states (like Hawaii) have absolutely no interest, but others, like the Virginias, have quite a bit.  With continuing wireless consolidation, we expect there will be more states looking like Hawaii, but for a couple dozen others they keep on coming...so we'll keep reviewing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

T-Mobile Has 5G for All of Us

Up until now, the majority of wireless thinkers thought 5G would be implemented on very high frequencies over very short distances.  Now T-Mobile says they'll be supplying 5G for mobile users on their lowest frequencies, over long distances.  A few years ago we would have responded with skepticism but T-Mobile has followed through on so many outrageous ideas, how can we poo poo this one?


Verizon announced last week that they will supply 5G through a fiber backbone to multiple customers accessing the last mile on 5G wireless.  It made sense last week.  Now it seems a bit short-sighted if T-Mobile can supply 5G to all of us wherever we want.  This is a lot of bandwidth on not a lot of spectrum, but the seed is planted, so let's see what sprouts.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tello's Birthday Party: FREE Stuff!

We're honored to be invited to Tello's first birthday party.  Tello has made it's way into our hearts, and our favored Prepaid List, with their rock-bottom prices and their "Build-Your-Own-Plan" feature.  To celebrate, Tello is offering a 90% Off deal for newcomers, valid between May 4-10, 2017, for any plan of $10 or more.

Tello will also honor its current customers, especially those who have been there since day one. Customers who joined Tello in May last year, and are still active today, get a special, custom-made Free surprise! (Let us know what it is) Also, all existing customers get a 25% off discount for any plan over $15 that is changed/renewed/purchased for the first time between May 5-8, 2017, using the code, 1BDAY.

They're also having a giveaway with Tello’s Facebook contest, between May 2-5, 2017 for a chance to win a FREE iPhone 7. I need to add that we're not being paid for this post but we sure do appreciate having Tello as an advertiser.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

US Cellular's Backup Plan

US Cellular is one of the more popular among our Wireless Noise subjects, and we were reminded after our article on Verizon's lack of a viable value-oriented wireless choice, that US Cellular has even less.  US Cellular has not been competitive with their Prepaid product, possibly because they can't offer as much coverage as larger carriers.  We think they can, and more importantly, they should.  Like Verizon, US Cellular's best competitor should be themselves.


US Cellular has an advantage with their less-restrictive ownership.  They can be much more creative in their combinations of their own network bundled with roaming partners.  They even cut a deal with Google Fi, a potential competitor.

US Cellular continues to expand their network, they recently purchased some new 600 MHz spectrum.  They also need to take a broader view for their customers who want to save a few bucks, without leaving open the barn door.  Hey, US Cellular could buy US Mobile to give them a bargain outlet. but we hear Virgin Mobile might be available...or at least not being used.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Verizon Has No Backup Plan

Now that Verizon has reported a first-ever net loss of wireless customers, we want to check on their backup plan.  Oh...we don't see one.  Let's look at the competition.  AT&T has both a Cricket and a GoPhone.  T-Mobile has MetroPCS.  Even Sprint has a Boost and a Virgin.  Each of the other "Top 4"  have a prepaid version for value-oriented customers to fall back on, where Verizon claimed their Prepaid was TracFone.  We thought that was short-sighted.  Now it's blind-sided.

Verizon is losing wireless customers to the competition when they could have been losing customers to themselves.  They tried to revive their own prepaid brand, but it's too little, too late. Are they afraid they might dilute their product?  We don't think they should be baking up a "Verizon Lite," but they do need a Plan B.


Last week Verizon announced a deal to lay more fiber.  Now it looks like before they add more fiber to their diet, they need to unblock their wireless pipeline. Fortunately, Verizon is moving in the right direction by expanding their network bandwidth and swimming into the 5G depth of the pool, but don't lose those of us at the other end of the pipe.  OK, it's a good thing they threw us an Unlimited bone, but figures say we want more.  Let's hope TracFone doesn't really become Verizon's prepaid division, they're one of the disruptors stirring these wireless waters.

Monday, April 17, 2017

T-Mobile Jumps Over Another Hurdle

It was little over a year ago we noted that T-Mobile had overcome our biggest objection to sign up as T-Mobile customers.  They had purchased a large chunk of 700 MHz spectrum, and had actually built cell sites using those frequencies giving them more, and better, coverage than ever.  Now that they have purchased another large swath of spectrum in the new 600MHz band, we would expect them to pretty much cover the entire US (yes, Alaska and Hawaii as well) as well as...or, egad, better, than other carriers.

We don't usually give credit to carriers for new coverage until it actually happens and in this case we will add our usual dose of caution: we won't be using this new spectrum until we can get 600 MHz-capable phones.  They're coming, and T-Mobile claims they'll start using their newly-acquired space later this year.  Yes, this is possible, but to fully use this new spectrum, a few hundred TV stations have to move their on-air TV channels, which could take years.  Also, 600 MHz isn't the best wireless coverage band, but it fits well into T-Mobile's spectrum portfolio even though it doesn't address those elusive "5G" needs.  The part we like the most is what happened in several areas with their 700 MHz bands: coverage in rural America.


The next thing we have to endure are all the stories that will state that now T-Mobile becomes an even better takeover candidate, or merger partner with Sprint.  Aw, c'mon.  That honor belongs to Dish and Comcast, the other big 600 MHz auction winners.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sprint Goes Price Happy

Sprint is competing aggressively in the "Unlimited" competition with some interesting adjustments.  First, their Unlimited plan among 5 family members could cost you as little as $28 per month per line, but you could have as many as 10 lines with even more savings! That price goes up on 6/30/18, but if your phones are paid off by then, you'll be ahead.  This follows the end of their "Half Off" sale.


Sprint also mentioned that they will be pricing their own Sprint Prepaid more to attract the non-Unlimited customer, but that advantage slips away when compared to their 'regular' plans...unless your credit really sucks.  Sprint's Prepaid also has a limited choice of phones.

On the other side of the Sprint building, their Virgin Mobile brand is still waiting to pounce on the market with a "disruptor" price, while making sure they don't do harm to their other prepaids, including Boost Mobile.  That's 3 prepaids from one major wireless company.  I wonder if there are arguments in the hall at Sprint headquarters about who gets to do what: price wars within the same company?  Back in 2009 we pondered that Virgin Mobile would become the low-priced version of Sprint.  I'm sure they'll get around to it in less than 8 years.

Friday, March 31, 2017

US Cellular on the Cheap

We have always thought of US Cellular as worth a premium price, after all, they're a real carrier.  However, when there's a chance to do it cheaper, we take it.  If you live in US Cellular territory you can use Google Project Fi and enjoy the benefits of US Cellular for a much better price.  However, the chances of using their network is low if Sprint and T-Mobile are nearby.  We can't predict which network gets priority, but we can be fairly certain that where US Cellular is your best, or only, choice, Google Fi will find it...which is a good thing.


Google Fi can also seek out a Wi-Fi network, so your chances of using US Cellular are potentially even less, unless a nearby "Off" switch removes that Wi-Fi from the equation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sprint's Spectrum: Money in the Bank

More than one analyst this week claims that Sprint and T-Mobile must merge.  Each analyst also notes that the marriage faces a number of challenges: anti-trust laws, incompatible technology, and more.  So, after I stopped gritting my teeth, I looked at the advantages of each company to go it alone.

As we noted earlier this week, T-Mobile was the beneficiary of some prime ex-AT&T spectrum in their failed merger attempt. T-Mobile also has their new 700 MHz bandwidth and may have won some of the 600 MHz space from this year's auction.


Sprint may be sitting on a spectrum gold mine.  A Wells Fargo analyst claims Sprint still has some prime holdings across the country but now the 2.5 GHz spectrum they acquired with Clear Wireless gives them some prime 5G real estate as well.  All Sprint needs to do is add water, some capital expenditures, and they'll grow an even more robust network, maybe with help from someone who can make withdrawals from that spectrum bank.

Friday, March 17, 2017

T-Mobile Doesn't Want to Merge with Sprint

I cringe every time I hear someone say it's time for Sprint and T-Mobile to merge.  This rumor has been floating around ever since the Feds denied the merger of T-Mobile and AT&T in 2011.  A few days ago T-Mobile's CFO, Braxton Carter, said at a Deutsche Bank investor conference that the carrier is more interested in merging with a cable company like AT&T did with DirecTV.

It's this thinking that keeps us from losing sleep over the US falling into a Canadian-like situation of only 3 major wireless carriers, but you can't say it can't happen.  Sprint's parent company does have deep pockets and could make an offer T-Mobile (and their stockholders) can't refuse.  All concern about losing one of our carriers goes out the window when there's money to be made.  Additionally, increases in interest rates have made the cost of money greater, making a big deal just a bit less likely.


Some of T-Mobile's recent success (and improved coverage) has been built from the $4 billion of cash and licenses it got from AT&T as a breakup fee when AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile was blocked in 2011.  T-Mobile would be smart to avoid that scenario by staying away from a merger of another wireless carrier.  They don't want me to lose sleep, do they?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Verizon Gets an AttaBoy

A few weeks ago we gave kudos to T-Mobile for giving Verizon a good run for their money as they finished the download derby in almost a tie.  More recently, the Root Metrics measurements put Verizon back in  first place for performance in both local and national performance.  We report this to keep from appearing like T-Mobile fanboys.  To be fair, the RootMetrics reports on network performance, not coverage, which is why Sprint continues to do well even though they do it in fewer locations.

Yes, RootMetrics is a bit more credible in this measurement, but after years of marginal coverage compared to the Top 2 carriers, there has been such a huge improvement with T-Mobile, primarily using their newly-acquired 700 MHz spectrum, we can't help but note how far they have come.  700 MHz provides better building penetration in urban areas and longer distance coverage in rural areas.  We presume that T-Mobile will add to these "low-band" holdings to further expand this better coverage in areas where they are not yet available.

I recently had a discussion with a reader about how T-Mobile has made inroads into Montana, a state that we did not expect a carrier like T-Mobile to ever cover well, but it looks like they will, soon.  With even more recently-acquired spectrum there, we expect improvements in the Big Sky state.  However, I will give credit to Verizon Wireless for giving us faster downloads and more reliable connections so we can post those pictures of us posing with the bears in Yellowstone National Park.  What better use can we ask of our spectrum?

Monday, March 13, 2017

An AT&T Grows in Mexico

AT&T, the newest cellular carrier in Mexico, is finally showing substantial growth.  With about 20% of the Mexican market, AT&T isn't the top dog, but a closer look shows a remarkable 38% growth in the past year.  We didn't predict that AT&T would dominate the country anytime soon, but over a year ago we did predict that roaming South of the Border would become a much better experience for US roamers.

Oddly, T-Mobile was the first US carrier to enable "Free" Mexico roaming, with AT&T to quickly follow.  Today, roaming in Mexico just isn't what it was just 2 years ago.  Last December our AT&T and Cricket phones roamed there on whatever network was available, which wasn't always AT&T.  We'll be looking for improvements this year at Spring Break.

Also, the other networks in Mexico are upgrading to 4G-LTE more hastily, most likely in response to the invasion of the Yankees who are pushing the AT&T network to be the fastest in the country.  TelCel, the country largest wireless operator still faces government pressure to slice up their communications monopoly and when (if?) that happens, AT&T (and Movistar) should stand to benefit.  ¡Muy Bien!

Monday, March 6, 2017

To Pay Less for Wireless: Pay Attention

This is a Tale of Two Teenagers.  One is in my family, one is in my sister's family.  We'll call them "He" and "She."  Both of them spend lots of time on Snapchat, Instagram and who knows what else on their smartphones.  They both use over 20 GB of bandwidth per month.  His parents are paying $10 per month, Her parents are paying over $70 per month.  What's the difference?

He has parents who won't pay for cellular data since he spends most of this time within range of Wi-Fi. He and his family sat down and looked at how much Talk, Text and Data he needs and found a rock bottom priced plan to fill those needs.  They set rules.  He has a few hundred MB of cellular data in case he needs an important document while having lunch off campus.

ALSO READ: Cheap Data Plans

She has parents who aren't paying attention.  She also spends most of her day within Wi-Fi coverage although She also uses quite a bit of Text.  She could have a fixed amount of Talk minutes and Unlimited Texts along with a little cellular data for less than $15 per month.  Part of the difference is that without turning off cellular data, she uses about 6GB of paid data per month.  She's not paying attention.  Her family had to subscribe to a larger family plan to cover mostly her usage.  They would also be wise to look into a new Unlimited plan.

While researching plans and carriers for our 4Net Wireless site, we found lots of people who knew about cheaper plans, but didn't know how to set rules. Even though we provide tools for wireless users to cut their cellular cost substantially, someone needs to pay attention...to pay less.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

When FREE Isn't Cheap Enough

As part of our "Cheapest Wireless Plans project", we were putting the finishing touches on our new "Cheapest Plan" web site at 4Net Wireless.  The argument was which plan was the cheapest on the Sprint network?  One of us said it was Tello's plans that start at $15 for a usable 500 MB of data, but then it was hard to argue that it was any better than FreedomPop's FREE plan for about the same amount of Talk, Text and Data.  The argument was that FreedomPop wasn't a real wireless provider, it was more of a hot spot service.  But they also offer their own phones, and support for Bring Your Own Device.

We hear regularly from the FreedomPop program that they're doing well, are not going bankrupt and even offer more Free promotional features from time to time.  Of course, they have lots of customers who send them some money each month, so not everyone needs Free.

So, the absolute cheapest plan that uses the Sprint network?  How can we argue that FREE isn't cheapest?  Remember, we didn't get paid for this article, but we do have an advertising relationship with FreedomPop, Tello and Sprint.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Local Cellular Reviews: A Guessing Game?

We stuck out our necks and added a thumbnail review of wireless service in smaller local areas, based on individual states, the District of Columbia and US territories in the Caribbean.  We moved these observations from the state and regional pages to a single set of "Local" pages.

You're darn straight it's hard to call one carrier better than another, even in general terms.  But we can say things like which carriers don't serve certain states, like Nebraska, West Virgina and Alaska.  Our old reviews were too general when they included several states.

One of our main objectives is to make sure you don't miss some of the really good carriers like C Spire in Mississippi and Tennessee, Viaero in Nebraska and surrounding states, or US Cellular across 21 states, who are each (in our opinion) the "best" in their service area.


We challenge you to refine our results, especially since we are based in the west and find some reports of coverage and service in the east depending on contributions from users who may also have a limited range of travel.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

US Cellular Goes Unlimited

US Cellular, one of our top-rated wireless carriers, now offers plans with Unlimited Data. Like other carriers they will consider 'throttling' your speeds once you pass 22 GB of data in a month.  US Cellular, the 5th largest carrier in the US, will continue to offer their other capped data plans.  Prices for the new plans are in line with other major carriers with substantial savings when you add additional lines to your account.


This keeps US Cellular near the top of our Ratings as they do whatever it takes to stay competitive with the 4 larger carriers.  They also get credit for plans in expanding their coverage with wins in the 600 MHz FCC auction.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sprint Hooks Up with Open Mobile

There is further consolidation of wireless services in the Caribbean.  Last year's purchase of Innovative Mobile by Choice Wireless in the US Virgin Islands is followed this year by Sprint forming an operating agreement with Open Mobile in Puerto Rico. We have posted the English translation of the public relations release.  This is not an acquisition, it's an agreement to combine assets of both companies to offer a competitive local product.  We expect the networks to be combined to improve coverage noticeably. Most likely, service will be offered under one name or the other...we vote for Open Mobile.


Sprint also provides service in the US Virgin Islands which will also be part of the agreement, with a local overlord watching over facilities in both territories.  Service for both carriers in Puerto Rico should improve significantly and in the US Virgin Islands, marginally.  We think the Open Mobile name would be of greater value to local users, and the addition of resources from Sprint will make them a strong competitor.  However, the best idea isn't always the idea chosen.

Additionally, service for US roamers should improve in Puerto Rico where Sprint is not the coverage leader.

Friday, February 17, 2017

US Cellular - The Next National Carrier?

Yesterday, US Cellular filed a notice with the Securities Exchange Commission that they will be paying $327 Million to the FCC for spectrum they apparently won in the recent 600 MHz wireless spectrum auction.  They weren't supposed to reveal any results, yet, but US Cellular had to submit an 8-k form to the SEC and they must have decided that takes priority.

Each time US Cellular buys up some spectrum, the rumors fly that they will be making a run at expanding coast to coast.  Currently, US Cellular serves part or all of 26 states.  As one of our most favored carriers in the Mountain Wireless Ratings, it would indeed be great to see them compete in the national wireless arena.  However, there is little likelihood of them going national.  In previous FCC spectrum auctions, US Cellular added new spectrum in and around their already-established coverage areas.  And at a paltry $327 Million purchase price, that's about all they will be able to gain  from this auction as well.

On top of that, US Cellular would be entering the wireless arena at one of the most competitive periods in wireless history, maybe not so not good for the bottom line.  It appears they want to continue as a dominant carrier in rural areas demonstrated by their 2013 sale of assets of their then-largest market, Chicago, to Sprint.  The good news is that with more spectrum purchases, users living in US Cellular territory will get even better service.  The 600 MHz spectrum works very well in rural areas.

US Cellular is owned by individuals who have expressed no desire to sell out, so we applaud their efforts to be the best they can be.  There will be more news from the latest spectrum auction but this peek under the tent gives us just a little candy to chew on until the big news starts to roll.