Monday, December 24, 2007

Use That Old Phone

Got a new phone this holiday? Most old phones end up in a drawer somewhere, and then forgotten. Most of us set our old phones aside, but still within reach, "just in case." But that day rarely comes. So this year, why not make a conscious decision to do something with that phone right away.

We suggest in this phone-dependent society that a retired phone be placed in service as a spare. If you're feeling flush, go ahead and add it to your family plan and you'll always have it in the glove box ready for the day you forget your nice shiny, new phone. But if you're more practical like me, you'll sign that phone up with a prepaid plan from one of the cellular resellers who generally will allow old phones to be re-activated on their network.

You need to find a reseller who offers service on the same network, and many of them, especially Sprint resellers, will say no. However, an AT&T phone will work with a SpeakOut SIM (although you may need to buy 7-Eleven's phone to get it), a Verizon phone should work on PagePlus, and T-Mobile's own T-Mobile2Go is a great alternative for a retired T-mobile phone.

We provide a list of what works with whom on our MVNO Page, a few suggestions on Our Choice Page, and there's nothing wrong with switching that old phone to your own network's prepaid service. And there are a whole bunch of new options available if you make the effort to "unlock" that old GSM phone and insert a cheaper prepaid SIM. There are prepaid providers who offer longer expiration dates, up to one year.

There's nothing like having an active standby phone. Even if you never use it, you get great comfort knowing that it's there, especially in the car, and even more so in a family member's car. Keep in mind, you cannot re-activate a non-E911 phone on a CDMA network, and if you really want to depend on that phone, buy it a new battery. They're around $50 at cellular stores, or you can get one for under $20 at online retailers like our discount accessory partners.

Other options include selling your old phone if you search for online buyers, donating to shelters who will do the selling for you, or real recycling services, especially the battery. A phone is a terrible thing to waste.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Web Site Updates

We just updated our Reviews of all cellular carriers, mostly looking at anything not updated since the first of 2007. We discovered a few surprises including four more systems that are being/were purchased by others. Some plans are now more expensive and some Unlimited plans now include fewer features, going against the trends we were expecting. There were almost a dozen systems that haven't changed much in three still has no web page.

Many smaller carriers are offering a better selection of phones, but others still have no data service other than Text Messaging. We wish we could report better coverage maps, but many companies are now just showing a completely colored-in map of the US for coverage, which we know is not accurate. We have a few maps from these carriers on our Map Page.

The next time you check the reviews for carriers in your state, make sure we have accurate information on your favorite carrier, and if not, let us know.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It Isn't Always the Network

A recent report on the wireless industry by Forrester Research showed Sprint/Nextel at the bottom of consumer satisfaction ratings but Virgin Mobile at the top! Isn't that odd, Virgin uses the Sprint network, but without Sprint's superior roaming capabilities! That's a fairly clear indication that Sprint/Nextel has image problems, not coverage problems.

We agree we haven't been high on Sprint/Nextel's customer service, but they do get credit for improving their service. Your reviewer even applied for (and was accepted for) one of many the new positions they have created in that area.

Since their network works so well, what will it take to improve their image? The suits at Sprint/Nextel are scratching their heads about this very question. They have an excellent SERO program that makes them a wireless price leader, but they can't hang their hat on that. So look for something different in the near future like loyalty rewards much like the airline and car rental industries.

Our suggestion is that they change their name. A unified name would bring the separate Sprint and Nextel networks under a common roof. They could resurrect a past name like AT&T did. Names like Cingular, Worldcom, MCI, even Cellular One, would gain immediate recognition, although each carry their own baggage.

Time for a contest, guys. Let's all submit something creative: Wicked Wireless, CellPod, CellTube, Bob's Broadband... anything but Sprint/Nextel. BTW, whatever happened to the "PCS"?

Separately, Forrester rated Alltel as the number 2 network, once again reinforcing our view of their superior capabilities in most areas of cellular service.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Competition

Regular visitors to Mountain Wireless know we're always trying to keep up to date on the cheapest way to buy and maintain cellular service. Some prepaid plans can be had for as little as $2 per month (SpeakOut), but prepaid phones are not that cheap. During the holidays we're keeping an eye out for great deals and thought we found one at Walgreen's Pharmacy. They are selling a T-Mobile2Go Nokia 6030 (or similar phone) kit for $30, which includes the SIM, accessories and $10 worth of time.

T-Mobile2Go is a very cost effective service with cheap minutes and an even cheaper 1-year refill requirement with their "Gold Rewards" program. They also do well in our online ratings. The beauty of this Walgreen's phone was not just the phone, but the SIM that came with it. Until a few days ago, T-Mobile sold a prepaid "activation kit", with SIM, for $50, for those of us who want to use our own GSM phone on their network.

Unless you picked up a "pre-activated" SIM on eBay, this was the only way to activate your own phone on T-Mobile's prepaid. With The Walgreen's deal, you could keep the SIM and either toss the phone in the trash or sell it on eBay, and you were at least $20 ahead.

Somebody must have caught on at T-Mobile, and as of today, they now offer their SIM-only for just $10, which includes 10 minutes of talk time. They told us they are only offering it from their telephone sales line (800-T-MOBILE), it includes free overnight shipping, and I bet T-Mobile stores will have it as well.

We're seeing a few other super low-cost offers, especially at retailers like Target who use them to get people into the store. Watch their weekend circulars. I bet we'll see even more deals for the holidays, and at some of these prices, we might be buying whether we need 'em or not (wouldn't a SIM card look cool on a necklace?).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vermont Throws a Wireless Curve Ball

The deal for Verizon Wireless to buy Unicel (Rural Cellular Corp.) has hit a snag. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders asked the FCC to completely block the deal and so far has at least influenced the FCC to delay the decision for 90 days. This is quite different than previous wireless deals that all seemed to get rubber-stamped by the FCC and other fed departments.

At issue in Vermont are things that we all are concerned about: universal service, new cell sites and reasonable prices. Sanders, with the backing of both business and consumer groups, does not believe Verizon will be as good a provider as Unicel. FCC observers think this might alter the course of future takeovers as well.

But Verizon isn't the only player here. Last week, AT&T agreed to swap licenses as well as some new customers and equipment with Verizon as part of the Unicel deal. AT&T would take over some of Unicel's Vermont licenses as well as all of their Burlington, VT customers and network. In return Verizon would get a few licenses and sites in other areas of the country. Wow, AT&T and Verizon agree on something?

The Vermont Senator says no. He prefers things the way they are. This deal has already changed direction to satisfy local and Washington concerns, but seems headed for yet another fork in the road.

This leaves Unicel customers across the country in a state of limbo. It may also affect a few Verizon Wireless or AT&T (ex-Dobson) customers who probably don't know what's coming. For those Unicel customers who have contacted us wondering what to do, hold on. If you like your service now, this squabble may keep the service you love going a bit longer. While we assume the deal will go through as expected in other parts of the country, Vermont customers may get something different...potentially better. What that may be, time will tell. If you jump ship too early, you might lose out on something good. Isn't it nice to be fought over?

Monday, December 3, 2007

AT&T to Buy Edge Wireless

Once again we're saddened to see another good network go away. Edge Wireless offers service in parts of the interior Pacific Northwest. AT&T provided the spectrum for the guys at Edge to start a network to service all their favorite fishing spots, and ended up with a really good network. While Edge customers will probably get some better features with AT&T as their provider, they may never see customer service as good, and so many new cell sites added so fast.

Since the network was originally carved out of AT&T channels, it certainly wasn't an unexpected development. Edge called themselves "An AT&T Affiliate." It does mean a much better selection of phones, but Edge still sells a variation of the "bag phone." Get yours while you can.

There may be many users who will be thrilled at AT&T being their new provider. Let's put the homogenization of the wireless landscape aside. It's unfortunate that an Oregon company will be no longer supplying service to Oregon (and 3 surrounding states).

As is our custom, we posted Edge's coverage maps on our web site in case they should suddenly disappear and get absorbed into AT&T's maps, which are improving. Let's hope the Edge guys have their favorite fishing spots already covered!

Have You Seen the New Phones?

The holiday season is here, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday already behind us. Most of us are happy with our relatively new, albeit limited, phones. This is a good time to venture forth to see what the new handsets have to offer. The stores may be busy, but they also have extra help.

Internet access is now the norm instead of the exception, and data plans are currently cheaper than you'd think. The iPhone got the ball rolling at a higher speed, and most carriers have something to compete with it, although with varying degrees of success. Feel free to stay with your old phone, but as the technology changes, it doesn't cost anything to get updated at your wireless store.

The evolution of the iPhone brings to mind it's ultimate limitation: the AT&T network. The number one iPhone complaint is about coverage, or expense of necessary roaming. We'll be watching to see if that continues to be the complaint as the phone gets rolled out in Europe. We think not. AT&T still suffers from coverage limitations, however we admit the problems are greater as you travel more toward the west. In some areas, AT&T is the best, in others they have no spectrum, and in still others, the competition has a big head start.

The introduction of new styles of phones will slowly change the rules, and hopefully, the carriers will keep up. It gonna fun for you & I to keep up, too. Get out and press some buttons.