Thursday, March 21, 2019

End of the Wireless Home Phone

We watched the decline of the home landline, as alternatives for the home phone became widely available and much less expensive.  Our favorite of these was the wireless home phone which was available from all of the major carriers, and a few alternative suppliers.  The advantage that attracted us was that the wireless base unit was self-contained...no Internet connection, computer or router was needed.

Now, all carriers, other than Verizon Wireless, have discontinued sales of plain wireless home phone units, although they still offer plans for existing units.  Even our best-selling unit from Straight Talk is currently listed as "out of stock."  For now, there are a few outside sources for these units.  Wireless units that provide both home phone and Internet service are still available, some of which should eventually be replaced by 5G wireless broadband.


Noting this trend, we decided to reconstruct our Wireless Home Phone web site to one that reflects all of the alternatives available for a phone that serves your entire home: The Home Phone Zone. Today, there are several methods available for replacing or establishing a "home" phone, the potentially outdated notion that a family would want to share a separate phone line throughout the house.  Fortunately, wireless home phones are still available from a smaller number of suppliers.  Our new favorite home phone product is the home cell phone adapter which overcomes the downside of cellular signal problems, the inconvenience of carrying your smart phone around the house, and the concern of running out of battery power.  And you aren't adding yet another phone number to the family collection.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mid Rivers in Montana Exits Cellular

The Mid Rivers phone cooperative in Montana has agreed to sell their cellular network to Verizon Wireless.  Like other rural phone companies, they will focus on their landline and DSL service.  Fortunately, the competition has improved in the area, so switching to another carrier may get you better service, if not a better price.  If you have a good signal with Mid Rivers, Verizon will probably provide as good as or better than what you have now. Both AT&T and T-Mobile have expanded in Montana but you won't know if they cover your home as well until you try.


Mid Rivers maintained an excellent cellular-band network but there's no guarantee that Verizon won't switch off some of the Mid-Rivers cell sites that are close to Verizon's existing locations.  We expect a slight improvement in wireless service for Mid Rivers customers but it's always sad to lose a local wireless presence.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The First 5G Zoom-in Maps

Credit to the author, Sascha Segan of PCMag for taking the verbal description of Verizon's 5G coverage and creating maps for it.  We thought about copying the maps to our Cellular Maps site, but we're afraid you wouldn't believe how small it is.  Follow this link to the article to understand the methodology and limits of this coverage.

Of course it's early in the process.  We expect 5G coverage to expand...but it looks like it will be v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Vermont Finds Their Maps are Wrong, Too

A few weeks ago we reported on the frustration of local wireless users who take great exception to the cellular coverage maps issued for areas showing good cellular coverage when indeed, there is little or none.  Our December report gave PTCI Cellular credit for actually driving their entire service area in Oklahoma and finding the coverage maps submitted to the FCC by the major carriers to be very inaccurate.

More recently, Corey Chase, a Vermont telecommunications infrastructure specialist, drove over 6,000 miles across the state in about six weeks this fall recording the download capabilities of each carrier.  Those results also revealed much less coverage than that showed on each carrier's coverage maps.  The accusations are directed mostly to Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.


At stake is almost $5 Billion in federal assistance to build additional wireless infrastructure in areas where coverage is lacking.  Most areas are getting nothing because coverage maps submitted to the FCC by the major carriers show very few areas not covered.  Several associations as well as state and local governments are accusing them of showing fake coverage, keeping that money out of the hands of potential competitors. Vermont is now 1 of 37 states challenging the carriers' data.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

5G Doesn't Mean Microwaves

One of our most popular posts, The Enemy Fighting 5G, received a few comments about the health aspects of 5G Wireless.  The same fears were expressed years ago about cell phones and how most humans will fall to cancer from all that RF exposure.  Now, with billions of wireless users, it just hasn't happened.  With the proposed use of new frequencies to accommodate the new 5G bandwidth, new fears have surfaced: 5G must be harmful to our health.

Let's look at what 5G means:  new methods of delivering greater amounts of data in the wireless environment.  It does not mean new radiation exposure in unsafe spectrum.  It may mean new radiation on channels already being used.  If indeed more sites are built at higher frequencies, the exposure to signals on these channels is limited by the physics of RF: the higher the frequency, the more the exposure is lessened based on distance, as well as the limitations of transmitter power.  The power used on a typical UHF TV transmitter is 1,000,000 watts.  The power from a cell site above 1.9 GHz is less than 16 watts, and the transmitted power from your handset is normally less than .2 watts.


Keep in mind, the source of 5G coverage will be on channels as low as 600 MHz.  Carriers are also building systems that use multiple channels from existing cell sites.  It's the same fear that you'll be hurt more by a wireless phone painted red vs. one painted green.  Yes, lab rats have contracted cancer when exposed to radiation at cellular frequencies, but they also suffered from exposure from other channels.

While an incandescent light bulb will severely burn your finger if you hold it too closely, it is perfectly acceptable at a normal distance.  Microwave ovens operate at 2.45 GHz.  Why don't they use higher frequencies?  It becomes too expensive to create enough power to cook food.  With wireless, you can use lower power...and they do.

Friday, January 11, 2019

5G Coverage Meets the Laws of Physics

5G Wireless has been identified as the catalyst for everything from driverless cars to finding life on Mars.  What 5G needs to accomplish these miracles is lots of bandwidth.  The easiest way to get more bandwidth is to move up in frequency.  Unfortunately, the higher the frequency, the shorter the range, and the less the coverage. It's the law of physics, a law we can't break.  Coverage for the "low" cellular frequencies (600MHz, 700MHz, 800MHz) is measured in miles.  Coverage for the "high" cellular frequencies (24GHz, 28GHz, 32GHz) is measured in feet.

A well-located cell site could cover a radius of 5 to 30 miles with the lower and maybe mid-band (1 to 5GHz) frequencies.  But a site at, say, 28 GHz (2,800 MHz), would not cover even one mile from the cell site.  The tradeoff is that more bandwidth is available on the higher channels.


How do we overcome this frequency disadvantage?  The answer is getting more signal at the user's location, and that is most easily provided by an outdoor antenna, which limits us to getting the most from 5G at a fixed location.  There's nothing wrong with getting faster Internet access wirelessly at home, but of course, most of us would rather have it in our pocket wherever we travel.

T-Mobile plans to provide 5G Wireless on their new, low-band assignments at 600 Mhz.  Yes, there are bandwidth limitations there, so T-Mobile plans to let your wireless device access other, higher wireless channels where there is more bandwidth, if you're within the more restricted coverage area of those channels.  You see, you can't break the "law".

The other method of getting more 5G signal to more users is more cell sites...spaced about a mile or two apart.  Just look at all the fun in that!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Can We Trust Those Coverage Maps?

Last spring the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) cried fowl when the FCC released their unserved 4G LTE coverage map.  The RWA claimed Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile overstated their coverage in rural areas effectively preventing rural wireless carriers from securing federal funding to expand wireless coverage in rural areas from the Mobility Fund.  Recently, the FCC agreed to review the process to make sure.

PTCI Cellular, a small rural carrier complained that driving over their service territory of the panhandle of Oklahoma shows 85% of the area with no 4G-LTE coverage from any carrier, yet the FCC map showed the entire area covered.  Eyebrows were raised in several other locations, such as the state of Kansas, who noted that their state appears to have 100% 4G-LTE coverage on the map.  Kansas regulators are often fielding complaints about areas with no coverage, let alone at 4G-LTE quality.


We don't get complaints about coverage that shows on a map that doesn't appear in the real world, but we do get complaints about areas with coverage shown but unable to make reliable calls and access usable data.  The carriers involved claim that, if anything, their maps are conservative.  We also note that just because an area shows little 4G coverage, a carrier can offer 4G download rates with various combinations of RF technology.

We're hoping this results in better maps, but more likely, we may see maps that either show less coverage or less detail, just so the FCC, the RWA and other rural associations stop complaining.  Thank goodness they are.  We agree rural areas need better coverage and the rural carriers have the most incentive to provide it.  May the best map win.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Open Mobile Looks Closed

We could have predicted the demise of Open Mobile in Puerto Rico when they agreed to "share" their network with Sprint.  Today, Open Mobile doesn't actually say they have given up the business, but their stores are now all branded as Boost Mobile.  Since last year's hurricanes, wireless customers in Puerto Rico have suffered from spotty service and the carriers suffered from a reduction to their income stream.  Sprint can survive this but Open Mobile can't.


This may have been a decision made before the storms but the result is that the network will work better under a major player.  As usual, we hate to see another carrier bite the dust, but if you live on the island, you should be glad the way things turned out..at least for your wireless service.

Friday, November 2, 2018

When 5G Isn't Quite 5G

Verizon Wireless was the first to start with what they call "5G", but it's really only a step closer.  Verizon's 5G, called "Home", is actually a slowed-down version of their ultimate high-speed Internet service.  In order to win the 5G footrace, Verizon is offering fixed wireless equipment that does not use the universally-accepted technology (3GPP), and they do not yet offer the near 5G speed standards, near 20Gbs.  Verizon does plan to pick up the speed and eventually offer the latest technology, but will need to replace customer equipment when it becomes available.

Similarly, AT&T doesn't yet offer a true 5G experience, instead, they call their high-er speed data, "5G Evolution."  That means that they're getting faster in some areas on their way to eventually offering real 5G performance.  AT&T also claims they will have 5G mobile coverage, soon.  So, there are some name games going on here.  We're trying to figure out how to respond, both on our 5G Coverage Map page, and on our new 5G web site, Mountain5G.com.

Related: 5G for You?

Sprint will eventually offer a faster data experience but they have numerous headwinds getting to that point.  T-Mobile, who has been able to expand new coverage across the country at a surprising rate, claims they will offer a hefty 5G product that will be available in several large markets soon, also available for mobile use.

Don't overlook the other 2 hurdles that must be crossed: 5G-capable devices, and that so much new wireless infrastructure is required,  with so many obstacles to building it.  We don't doubt that each of the major carriers will get there and the race to 5G does include many methods of getting us increased broadband downloads.  Enjoy the trip to fast...slowly.