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 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.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Limits of Unlimited

The Unlimited wireless fracas is underway.  Each carrier touts their own version of all-you-can-eat wireless as best, but they all have limits to their Unlimiteds.  Each carrier "throttles", which we feel is fair as long as it is used only at truly congested times (who's gonna check this?).  Then there are the conditions like Auto-Pay, with one carrier charging extra if your Auto-Pay is linked to a credit card instead of a checking account.  Some allow hot spots, some don't.

As predicted, Sprint has revived their $50 unlimited plan.  Each carrier also supports substantial discounts for multi-phone users.  Watch out at check out for those pesky taxes and fees.  T-Mobile claims "No Taxes and Fees," as do some of the Prepaid carriers.  AT&T still offers Unlimited to wireless customers who sign up for DirectTV.  Let's see how long that lasts.  Whoops, at 4PM ET today, AT&T changed their minds and have eliminated that requirement!  Some of these other Unlimited limitations may go away just as fast, as consumers see the hoops they need to jump through, and the real price they need to pay.

One of the undesired results of making any amount of unlimited available,. is that we'll get spoiled.  3G was enough a few years ago, now we can't live without 4G.  Any kind of video in our pocket was a great novelty, now it has to be HD.  Hold your breath when the family travels off-network or out of the country.  You may need to actually talk to them when they can't access last night's video on demand.  Yes, it's your Dad here, telling you too much sugar isn't good for you.

Fortunately, Wireless Noise has your back.  We know the best Alternatives to Unlimited, and the cheapest Data plans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Unlimited Data: The Alternatives

Last month my wife went over her data allotment. She normally uses about 500 MB a month for email, the occasional web site and maybe an address lookup.  How she racked up 2.5 GB of usage in a couple of weeks is a mystery, but it's not unusual.  Leaving just 1 app open can suck up all kinds of data without notice...until it's too late.  I don't know if a 10GB limit would have kept her data alive.  Now that all of the top 4 carriers offer unlimited data, should she consider an "unlimited" plan?  We can see how some of us really want an unlimited amount of Data, not necessarily to use, but "just in case."

Fortunately, there are alternatives to unlimited data for those of us who go over our data limit only once in a while.  Our favorite alternative is "throttling". Until now, I never really gave much thought to carriers that "throttle" their data over your limit, but I now see what a great advantage it holds over those that brick wall your downloads. With throttling, when you hit your maximum, your download speed goes from mega-bits to kilo-bits.  There is more than one of the smaller carriers that only drops you from 4G to 3G...would you notice?  Even at 2G (128Kbit/s) you can still use a map or read your email.

The next option are the carriers that offer an extra GB or so for an additional fee.  If you have a hard data limit or you truly want more high-speed data over throttling, the extra data charge is a good deal...if you only use it every few months.  It's certainly better than paying a high monthly fee for unlimited that you may never use.  My wife has the patience to wait until she's back on Wi-Fi, but she'll re-think her next plan to consider one that throttles instead of one that cuts her off.  It's nicer that way.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Happy Feet: the T-Mobile & Verizon Foot Race

A new report from Open Signal on the "State of Mobile Networks" shows that T-Mobile has not only caught up with Verizon Wireless in data download speeds, they beat them in some markets.  Fortunately for us, all 4 top cellular networks have made noticeable improvements in download rates.  T-Mobile's aggressive addition of 700 MHz spectrum has contributed much to their network upgrades, however, there are still a number of markets where they don't have this new "Extended" coverage.  This could change either with more spectrum acquisitions, or T-Mobile's success in the current 600 MHz spectrum auction.

These numbers will contribute to the 2 carriers' bragging rights as much as make true improvements available to users.  So let the boasting begin.  It's is a foot race where the leader just noticed another runner catching up...and faster is better for all of us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hello Tello Plus 50% Off

I got an email this morning from Tello telling us they're increasing their incentive for Ring Plus customers from 30% off to 50% off (Coupon Code RINGPLUS50).  You can also bring over your Ring Plus phone.  Tello has been catching notice by offering plans starting at $5 a month, with their next price level at $9 which gives you a little more Talk, Text and Data.  We posted the step-by-step process if you want to port from Ring Plus to Tello.

Over at FreedomPop I'm guessing they can't cut their price any cheaper than FREE, but they are offering refurbished phones today which would interest some of us whether we're escaping from Ring Plus or not.

This very same scenario happened about one year ago when PTel gave up their business and their customers were courted by several prepaid players with the winner at that time, Ting, who eventually lost a bunch of those PTel refugees when their free offer was over.  This year, there's no free lunch, but there's a better chance of finding a new home that will keep prices at a predictable level.  Oh, yes, we have an advertising relationship with both of these carriers but we did not get paid for this post.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Goodbye Ring Plus: Here's Where to Go

We have only a few Ring Plus fans here so I will direct you to an article at Cnet about alternatives to Ring Plus, which is closing later this week (you'll need to port out by Feb. 11).  The author shares several good ideas for low-cost replacements, very similar to what we report here.  We agree on most of his ideas except his downplay of FreedomPop.  How can you complain about FREE wireless?  Yes, FreedomPop offers less Free Data than Ring Plus, which is why FreedomPop stands a better chance of surviving.

Ring Plus phones are based on the Sprint network, so other compatible companies we have positive experiences with are Ting, Tello, and Google Voice.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Straight Talk or Total Wireless?

Straight Talk has been one of our top-rated prepaid carriers.  Some Straight Talk users whose phones use the Verizon Wireless network wonder if they can save over $10 a month by switching to Total Wireless since both use the same network.  Let's compare.

Both Straight Talk and Total are operated by TracFone which is owned by America Movil.  Both are sold at Walmart and online at Mountain Prepaid. Both operate on the Verizon Wireless network, although Straight Talk also has versions that utilize other networks. While both claim coverage is  limited to the Verizon network, Straight Talk phones can also roam onto other CDMA systems, which may be a significant difference.  For their lowest price, both give you Unlimited Talk & Text plus 5Gb of Data, but it appears Total just flat out stops after that, where Straight Talk throttles your data speed down to 2G, so they can claim it's "Unlimited".

The big difference is the price.  Straight Talk charges $44 with Auto-Payplus tax and Total Wireless actually charges $33.20 with Auto-Pay, plus tax.  You're looking at an almost $11 difference.  Is it worth it?  Even if you go over the 5Gb limit, the best deal is Total, because for $10 you can add another 3 GB of data and, as long as you maintain your account, that extra data doesn't expire until it's all used up.  The coverage difference?  How often are you actually out of Verizon coverage?  Hello, southeast Oklahoma?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A 20% Price Cut!

T-Mobile has joined the likes of Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS with "No added Taxes or Fees."  Some of us responded with a shrug but many others are quite impressed with what amounts to as much as a 20% price decrease.  Money magazine noted, "Washington (18.8%), Nebraska (18.7%), and New York top the list of states where consumers pay the most in taxes and fees, while Oregon (1.8%), Nevada (2.1%) and Idaho are among the states that offer the lowest..."  In another article they reveal there are 8 potential charges, some beyond taxes, that can appear in our wireless bill.  These can be called "federally-mandated" but are not required to be passed along to the consumer, they just do.

For some of us, "No Added Taxes or Fees"  looks like a tiny 1 or 2% discount, but others should be jumping up and down.  Also, all of us should hope this 'No Fee' wall survives whatever new charges might be applied by various government and non-government entities in the future.  Fortunately, it looks like none of us are paying more to subsidize the highly-taxed areas of the country.

It's a trend we hope spreads to more carriers, however, it may mean they'll find new ways to extract money from us, like higher phone prices, activation charges and new plans with fewer benefits.  I'm sticking with the Cheap Plans and hope for the best.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sprint's $50 Unlimited Plan

Sprint's $50 sale isn't particularly earthshaking, but it is indicative of the state of Sprint and wireless pricing in general.  Unlimited Data, Talk & Text from Sprint for only $50 is actually what we need from Sprint.  Sprint's network isn't getting any worse, but the competition, particularly T-Mobile, is getting better.  Other carriers are getting lots of buzz when they do something worth talking about. Sprint needs to create a buzz of their own, and a snazzy price promotion is a nice way to do it.

Sprint's $50 Unlimited plan will be available until midnight tomorrow (Tuesday 1/31) night, and it's only effective for a couple of months, but if it brings lots of people in the door, we might see it again...and maybe from other carriers.  (We did not get paid for this article but there are commissionable links to Sprint on this page).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fi's Cheap Data Plan

In our last article about the cheapest data plans, we named Republic Wireless as the low-cost data plan winner.  There was much discussion about one more plan that should be reviewed, but most of our editorial contributors weren't comfortable about including Google Fi.  Google Fi uses a different wireless model in that not only do you pay for data per Gb, but you also get back some of your payment if you don't use it all.

The limits that make some people uncomfortable are the fact that calls are completed through broadband and that you need to use their own Fi-compatible phones.  With the addition of the Pixel phone to the line of Fi handsets, the phone selection becomes less of a drawback.  And, since I have been using Google broadband functions (apps) for calls while roaming outside the US, I'm fairly comfortable that the process works well.  It may even be the future of wireless.

Another point in Fi's favor is that T-Mobile, one of the 3 cellular networks used for broadband connections, has improved their coverage significantly.  However, at $30 (+ tax) for service with 1Gb data, the only way Google Fi becomes a lower-priced option is when you actually use less than your 1Gb allotment and get the refund.  Most of us with 1Gb plans may very well not use that much data.  If you need to add another 1 Gb of data, the price goes way above the other offers.  What I like is the international access of the plan.  What other users dislike is the call quality on Wi-Fi...but that can be bypassed.  Google Fi is a good choice, but not the best one for us bottom-feeders.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cheap Data Plans

Last week we shared a few rock-bottom-priced Talk & Text plans that cost pocket change.  This week we searched for cheap Data plans.  To make a comparison we decided that frugal users can survive on 1Gb a month...because us cheapskates use lots of Wi-Fi.
  • $30/month will get you Unlimited Talk & Text plus 1Gb of high speed Data with Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS.  Boost Mobile will get you 2Gb at that price.  If you want access to Verizon's network, Page Plus offers 1Gb of Data and Unlimited Text with a limit of 1,500 Talk minutes.
  • FreedomPop, Tello and US Mobile, our Talk & Text low-price leaders, come in a little under $30, but taxes and fees can push that total back over.
  • There are some substantial price drops if you can get by with 500Mb (even FREE!).  Conversely, a few dollars more, say at $35/month, can get you quite a bit more Data...5Gb at Virgin Mobile.
  • The low-cost winner in our search is "Wi-Fi first" carrier, Republic Wireless.  They claim Unlimited Talk & Text + 1Gb Cellular Data for $20/month.  Their TOS states that taxes and "government-mandated fees" are extra.  Republic is now using the T-Mobile network for their cellular Data.
We realize the 1Gb limit is a bit arbitrary as the average data user consumes about 2Gb of data per month. As usual, our shopping trip is not exhaustive and is subject to change.  Note our disclaimer on these reviews.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fake News? Why Didn't We Think of That?

We may be sloppy in not quoting all our sources and we might have missed some details when making our opinionated blasts, but we never thought about just making up stories.  It could be we're just not that creative...or that credible.  We need to make sure you know that what we report in this, and all other Mountain Wireless web sites, has some basis in fact.  We truly believe what we're rambling about is true.

Of course it needs to be relevant, who comes here to talk about potatoes?  More than a few times we have stepped out of the facts to insert our opinion, but it is usually preceded by the terms, "We think," or "We believe," or the like.  No, our take is never fake.  But if we say something is so and there isn't a link to back it up, we need to fix it up.  If we don't, it's a screw-up, not a cover-up.  Long live the 'Noise.'

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Verizon Gets Back into Prepaid

After reporting that Verizon Wireless was making their Prepaid products somewhat less competitive, there appears to have been an about face.  Checking Verizon's Prepaid plans, we see the $30 prepaid plan is back and their more expensive plans appear to include a bit more incentive to sign up.

It was several months ago that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo was quoted, "quite honestly, we use the TracFone brand as our prepaid product."  Now, it is reported that Verizon is working with 3rd-party Prepaid sellers to expand into the prepaid market in a different direction.  It looks like Verizon has decided Prepaid is a market segment they can't ignore...even though they tried.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dirt Cheap Plans

As a wireless consumer advocate we get updates about (and use) some of the lowest-cost cellular plans.  Here is an update on some of these very low cost plans for ultra-low usage:

    FreedomPop gets the award for offering the most brazen offer: FREE wireless plans!  They hope you'll add one of their inexpensive add-on services, but you don't need to.  FreedomPop uses the Sprint and AT&T networks and you can bring your own GSM phone.
    T-Mobile still offers their $3 per month plan which gets you 30 minutes of Talk or 30 Texts.  With Auto-Pay they will refill your account if you need more at the same rate of .10 each.  Data passes are available if you really want it.

    US Mobile plans start at $4 per month which gets you 100 Texts OR 100 Mb of Data, you need to choose which.  Add $3 more (or $5 for Talk Only) and you can add 100 minutes of Talk.  US Mobile offers Auto-Pay on these plans and uses the T-Mobile network.
    Tello's plans start at $5 per month which gets you 100 minutes Talk AND 200 Texts.  For $4 more you get 200Mb of Data.  Tello uses the Sprint network.

    Page Plus offers $10 for 120 days which gives you a $2.50 per month plan.  You get a combination of 100 minutes Talk or 200 texts.  You'll use the Verizon Wireless network but with some some phone model restrictions, and there's the annoying 'drop dead' refill dates.
Yes, there are a few other very low-cost plans, but we have first-hand information on these.  Of course, these carriers also offer some great values for larger amounts of usage.  Surprisingly, Republic Wireless, a 'Wi-Fi first' carrier, has increased their prices to where they are no longer among the cheapest providers.

We keep track of some of the cheapest plans and carriers at MountainPrepaid.  Coming soon: the Cheapest Data plans.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Auto-Pay Makes Prepaid Palatable

One of our biggest objections to going Prepaid was the cumbersome payment cycle required by prepaid accounts. You didn't pay the bill once a month like the electric bill, you paid at or near an exact payment date or you lost your account value, and your service if you were one day late.  These types of payments still exist but finally most Prepaid operators now offer some form of "Auto-Pay", or "Auto-Refill", where your monthly payment is automatically deducted from a credit card, debit card or checking account.

The upside with Auto-Pay is it's easier to pay than the electric bill because the payment is made without any hassle.  In most cases you get an Text or email that the charge to your card or checking account is being made, and no action is required on your part. Having an associated account also makes it easy to change features or add-ons to your account.  The downside includes the challenge of stopping Auto-Pay.  Some carriers make you go through a menu of choices before you find a way to cancel.  Additionally, credit cards have expiration dates that can interrupt the Auto-Pay process suddenly finding yourself with no wireless service.

Some carriers are better than others in making Auto-Pay consumer-friendly.  There are carriers that even offer a discount when you sign up.  Most carriers offer both online and app access to your account.  Several will notify you long before there is a problem including an upcoming expiration date. Our advice sometimes includes backing away and allowing for the fact that something will cause your account to be charged a slightly different amount than you expect, and it may cause less trouble to grin and bear it than pressing to get back a few dollars.

Keep in mind that if you choose not to use Auto-Pay, Mountain Prepaid offers Discount Wireless Refills which can be applied automatically or with a PIN, and we offer refills in more denominations than the carriers themselves to better match your Prepaid usage.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

4G in Mexico? Where?

We're trying to spend as much time in Mexico this winter as possible.  We need to get back soon but hopefully after the most recent snow melts.  Until then, we continue to search for the elusive 4G - LTE that each network claims.  Our last trip was along the Pacific coast and we're currently  on the Baja peninsula.  In both locations, all 3 major carriers claim "4G - LTE Coverage," but we're just not finding much.  There was a small town south of Puerto Vallarta (Boca Tomatlan) where Telcel gave us a solid 4G - LTE signal, and a short stretch of 4G in Cabo San Lucas on AT&T.  Otherwise, those G's remain elusive.

Another change is that the Cricket phone we carried no longer roams on TelCel.  If it loses the AT&T signal it will roam on Movistar or "Emergency Calls Only."  We will assume a US-based AT&T phone will react similarly.  What's cute is how they have changed the name of the networks to include "4G", even when no 4G is available.  AT&T phones (US and Mexican models) occasionally roam on "Iusacel 4G", but that's AT&T's own network.  Some phones appear on "Telcel 4G", but it shows HSPA (as "H") as the technology, which is 3G at best.  3G is good enough, but if our limited observations are any measure, they have a long way to go to providing good, really high-speed broadband coverage.

The reason it's a big deal is that so many resorts have yet to install good wi-fi that can handle all of their guests' demands.  I had no idea how many devices are trying to connect to wi-fi until I looked at user reports and found hundreds of devices trying to use a single wi-fi site.  I thought I could hide from the neighbors by using cellular data, but it looks like they're thinking the same thing.  Escaping to the beach improves the attitude...but not the signal...and that's OK, too.