Saturday, May 31, 2008

Doesn't Everyone Have a Cell Phone?

We were able to extract more information on cellular use from the FCC and another figure came up for cellular penetration, or the percentage of population who own a cell phone. The latest official figures come in at about 82%, which, by now, has increased even more. Using that number, a few days ago a CNBC reporter asked Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon Wireless, if, at that level, cellular penetration in this country had reach its maximum. His answer was surprising.

Mr. McAdam, whose company is partnered with Vodaphone, a major European wireless carrier, reports penetration levels there of over 140%! Zowee! Every man, woman and infant there has at least one cell phone, and some have two! Take out the babies and lots of people have more than two! Get ready, it's coming our way.

Sure, some of us at Mountain Wireless have even more than that...but that's different, right?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Are You Average?

The only public figures available for how many minutes we talk on cell phones are from the FCC, and those are a bit dated. But with those figures we can estimate that over the past year, the average cellular customer used 720 minutes per month. This includes "anytime", "night & weekend" and "mobile to mobile" minutes. These figures don't include text messages and only include data if it is paid for by the minute.

This number brings to mind the range of usage of cellular customers. We have heard so much of "power" users who can benefit from "unlimited" plans, but their usage is certainly offset by some who use very few minutes. Most of our acquaintances use less than the average amount, although some use lots of data time. But we're all over 25, close to being 'over the hill'.

More of my contacts now communicate through email instead of the phone, and my cellular usage has actually dropped over the past few years while my email access through cellular has been increasing. I use actual minutes to access email and the loss of minutes making phone calls has been offset by a corresponding increase in reading email. Yin & Yang...the world seems to be in balance. As we allow more cell phone usage into our lives, we should assume we will grow beyond the 7 minute yearly increase we have today, especially as some of us cut the wire line.

Where do you fit in? I bet none of our readers are "average". You either use a lot more or a lot less, and I also bet the wireless carriers still don't really offer a plan that fits you best. They are very clever that way, because they also know that few of us are "average."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Cell Site Fight

When multiple companies apply to the FCC for cell sites in the same location, the FCC resolves the conflict with an Auction. Two competing applications for cell sites in the same place have created just that scenario, one on the mountains northwest of Denver, and another in Angel Fire, New Mexico, a town with a sizable ski area. Fortunately, the two competing parties in the Colorado conflict, Verizon Wireless and Keystone Wireless, have come to an agreement, avoiding the auction process.

The other conflict is for a cell site at the top of the Angel Fire ski area. The competing parties are Excomm LLC (Commnet Wireless) and ENMR Telephone Cooperative (Plateau Wireless). Excomm is trying to establish a site to serve CDMA and other roamers, and ENMR, who already has a cellular site on the air at Angel Fire on a different cellular channel, is trying to block any new service to the area claiming they "need" the spectrum. It appears ENMR just wants to keep their monopoly in the area.

Instead of weighing the merits of each argument, the FCC scheduled an auction to award the license to the highest bidder. The sad part about this is that the original application was made almost 3 years ago and during that time, many of us have been denied coverage. The FCC has scheduled the auction, Number 77, to resolve these conflicting applications, which will be held next month. In the meantime, Excomm has found Angel Fire spectrum from another source, and even Sprint has turned on a cell site in the area. But ENMR continues to hope they can block new service from competitors, while the world sneaks up and bites them in their other extremities.

Plateau Wireless has been one of our examples of a small cellular company that feels the heat from the FCC and large wireless companies toward unwanted changes, when, instead, they are the ones applying the heavy-handed tactics usually associated with corporate bad guys. Shame!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Coverage: Is 10% More Worth It?

We were on a short road trip this past week (700 miles total) and I had the usual collection of phones beeping away on the dashboard. On this trip, I was paying special attention to one phone, one that I would consider using as my main phone some day. I remember telling my passengers, "this phone doesn't have coverage along the entire route." their response was, "So, what's the difference?" My answer would be, "I want coverage" The reply was, "How much less would you have?" The answer was, "about 10%." "Is that a lot?" hmmm

To me that seems like lot of no coverage area. But it was only on this trip, and another route may have resulted in less than 1% difference. So just how important is continuous coverage? How much of a problem is missing that one phone call? I often think long and hard about this very question and came to the conclusion that indeed, if I was waiting on a very important call, I would probably take roads with better coverage. However, over the years I have had the phone with better coverage, and have still missed calls in an area of poor coverage. That's just the way luck is.

I'm fairly certain that if a new carrier serves our needs on a daily basis and travel away from home is infrequent, what is the difference? I've been telling people for years not every carrier has coverage everywhere...make the best choice based on your acceptable trade-offs. Is it time to actually heed my own advice? hmmm

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For the Want of a Battery...

I can't believe how many people dump their cell phone because it's "broke", when all it needs is a new battery. It would seem obvious to me that if your battery needs charging more often, it's time for a new one. But a lot of users use this as an excuse to get a new phone. You might be wasting more money than you think.

Now that 2-year cellular contracts are the norm, the contract often now survives longer than the battery. I always buy a spare when the phone is new, even though I might not need it for a year. Recently, I needed another battery, and not for one minute did I think it was really time for a new phone, even though a new phone might be cheap, or free, if I wanted to renew for yet another 2 years.

Fear no battery! You can usually pick one up at your cellular dealer, or, easier and cheaper, is to buy online. And, since the shipping charges are normally the same, why not get 2, or more for other family members. It was just coincidence my wife and I have phones that use the same battery, so I bought in each phone and a spare for whoever needs it first. Then you have time to consider what kind of new phone you really want and delay that next 2-year obligation. If you gotta have a new phone, go ahead and get one and save the battery money. Replacing your phone in less than 2 years makes you...uh...average.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sprint's Nextel Knee-Slapper

The Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported Sprint is considering dumping it's Nextel unit. Sprint needs to do something, but dumping Nextel rings of re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. While the rumors and ideas float, Deutsch Telecom (owner of T-Mobile) is considering buying up Sprint even though they'll need to convert everything to GSM. If the price falls far enough, there will be plenty of cash left over.

But the knee-slapper comes when you look at the (short) list of potential Nextel buyers, and at the top of the list is Nextel's founder, Morgan O'Brien. Sprint buys Nextel for $35 Billion and might need to sell it for as little as $5 Billion. I'm sure Morgan is scrambling to come up the money as you read this. Sprint has other options with Nextel, but they certainly have proven they can't run the company and they need to do something before their stock drops completely out of sight.

We would hope there would be some kind of advantages on the horizon for current or potential Sprint users, but almost any idea now is too little too late. Virgin Mobile is making good use of the Sprint network, Sprint should be able to, also. But they won't until they cleanse themselves of past sins. As we said last year, Sprint needs to change their name to something really sexy, or at least really different. Could they try "Cingular?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Qwest Dumps Sprint

We're always looking for good news to share about Sprint, but there is so little. This time, Sprint gets kicked in the teeth by Qwest. Qwest Wireless sold and supported their own phones, but they operated on Sprint's network as an MVNO. Qwest has signed an agreement with Verizon Wireless to sell Verizon phones as part of Qwest's "bundles", but they will be Verizon-branded phones. So this means the death of Qwest Wireless as well. This deal is similar to that with Qwest and Dish Network.

Qwest's official position is that Sprint wouldn't let Qwest have the latest gee-whiz phones, at least for 4 months after Sprint gets them. Verizon will...of course they will...since they are Verizon phones. One of the few advantages I can see is Verizon Wireless users (who sign up through Qwest) will be able to combine their home and wireless voice mail, which was already available to Qwest wireless and landline customers.

We think this is an unfortunate decision because it means more trouble for Sprint, a good network with a bad reputation, and the end of one more name in the wireless world, Qwest Wireless. This will mean a few more layoffs at Qwest, but overall it must mean more for Qwest's bottom line. Fortunately, current Qwest Wireless customers won't need to make any changes until next year. But we can start moaning now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Big Jumps in International Roaming Rates

It was just a year ago we lamented the increases in roaming rates for American visitors to countries like Mexico. Not only did we lose the availability of Verizon's "North America's Choice" plan, which included free calls into and out of Canada and Mexico, regular roaming rates increased, Mexico's from .69 to .99 per minute. Now, it appears the other shoe is dropping and roaming rates to many other countries are increasing substantially as well. What tipped us off was a release on new international roaming rates that are coming to Verizon Wireless on June 30, 2008.

A sampling of what's to come is that roaming calls made from countries like China and Isreal, countries that have CDMA service, will be increasing from $1.29 per minute to $1.99 per minute. Verizon's new rates show some savings with new "Global" rate plans (at $4.99 per month), however, those rates only apply with a Verizon Global phone (with GSM capabilities) and traveling in a country with GSM service available. At first look, it seems like international CDMA services are becoming a problem for US carriers. But a look at AT&T's GSM roaming rates show equally high international fees both with and without their "International Traveler" package.

In the age of falling international Long Distance rates, you can call England for as little as .02 a minute (or free), it seems back-asswards that cellular roaming rates are not only going up, they're skyrocketing. This, of course underscores our recommendation that you're better off using a local, prepaid phone when out of the country, and even more, not even using cell service internationally. Using email and IP-based services are now much more cost-effective, and potentially free.

While we think our wireless phone is our best connection to the world, we now have a great economic incentive to do something else while traveling abroad. Do you remember the days of calling home, ringing the phone twice, hanging up and the family calls you back for a fraction of the price it would cost you? Well, what's old is new...again.