Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Towns Without Cellular

Pick a "white" spot on any cellular coverage map and you have a good chance of finding no service. If that spot appears at the same place on every carrier's coverage map, you have an area of no coverage. If that spot appears deep in the mountains or inside a protected area like a National Forest, we aren't too terribly concerned. But if that spot appears in a populated area, what's up with that?

We reviewed a few towns with no cellular service in the west which were surprising due to their popularity with tourists and notable full-time population. But they aren't unique. We spend a few days in southeast Ohio each year for the family reunion, and accept the fact that there's no cellular service. Why haven't the locals complained? I guess you don't miss what you never had. But visitors like us sure miss it, especially when some family members get lost.

Relief is possible, if these residents have broadband service, and if they don't mind only using that phone around the house or in the next town with service. T-mobile offers their HotSpot at Home which utilizes wi-fi equipped phones, and the new Sprint "femtocells" are now available using cellular frequencies. "Femtocells" are the next step smaller than "picocells", which are smaller than "microcells" which are used inside public buildings like shopping malls and airports.

An even bigger surprise was that a walk to a nearby hill sometimes formerly yielded a weak analog signal which would rarely support a call. Now those hilltops have digital service, and we could actually make calls. If we could just drag that signal to the know, where the people are?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Verizon Concedes More Alltel Properties

Possibly in a rush to get the deal done before a new President, Congress or FCC leans in another direction, Verizon Wireless has thrown in several "concessions" to get their acquisition of Alltel approved ASAP. They're emphasizing that they will maintain any and all roaming contracts with all other carriers and even go so far as to allow carriers to choose which roaming agreement, Alltel's or Verizon's, will apply going forward.

Verizon offered to divest themselves of wireless properties in as many as 85 markets in 18 states, containing about 15% of Alltel's customers, to get the deal done. Could the feds want more? It means spinning off mostly rural parts of the Alltel network in North and South Dakota, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. Do we see AT&T drooling?

While this sounds like a decent deal for the consumer, smaller wireless carriers are quite concerned and want more roaming issues to be clarified, especially what happens when all their roaming contracts expire. It may be like buying an SUV in today's market: Verizon is willing to give more concessions now to get that vehicle out the door before the market, or the feds, make a left turn.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

T-Mobile Loses Spam Case

Say it isn't so. One of favorite consumer-friendly carriers, T-Mobile, can't, or won't, stop text-message spam that appears on subscribers' phones. As a result, they have lost the latest round of a class-action lawsuit to get them to stop. Verizon Wireless brought a few of these transgressors to court and at least slowed the problem in Verizon phones. But T-Mobile seems to ignore the problem and acts like they haven't done anything to prevent it. You can't even cancel Text Messaging on your phone like you can at other carriers.

I can't believe T-Mobile has chosen to pay the lawyers to defend a slowly sinking ship instead of seeking a technical solution. But the attorneys' fees will eventually give them incentive to start working on their network, as long as they keep losing their case.

I guess this is a heads up that if you get Text span on your T-Mobile phone, it's an ailment without a short-term solution, unless enough customers start clogging the customer service lines to complain. Fortunately, we don't think this is a widespread problem, but as spammers begin to find out T-Mobile phones are fertile ground for their messages, watch them grow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

SK Telecom Denies Sprint Rumor

SK Telecom today says they were only talking to Sprint about working together on developing technologies for future services, not a buyout. After looking at how well foreign-owned T-Mobile operates, it's too bad. Sprint needs some fresh ideas. It looks like they won't come from South Korea...unless somebody's blowing smoke.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SK Telecom to Buy Sprint?

This one is still in the rumor stage, but SK (South Korea) Telecom and Sprint/Nextel are talking. People "close to the talks" note that Sprint is thinking their big recovery is "right around the corner", based mostly on the introduction of the new Samsung Instinct phone. After all the things Sprint has done to chase away, or at least not try to keep, customers, we think it's too little too late.

Sprint has the resources to improve their situation, but either they are too big to steer the Titantic on a different course away from the iceberg, or don't have the courage to just copy a successful wireless model, like maybe T-Mobile...who, BTW, are also owned by a foreign company.

We have outsourced so many of our technical jobs overseas, I guess there's nothing left but for our management to go, too?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sprint Kills SERO

It was one of the worst-kept secrets in cellular. It was Sprint's "SERO," Sprint Employee Referral Option, with excellent-priced plans and all you needed was an email of a Sprint employee which was readily available in cellular forums. It has been replaced with Sprint's "Everything Plus Referral Program" and the plans aren't as generous, and the "referral" is harder to get.

Sprint has the right to end such programs, but they are not a company who can just raise prices without further destroying their customer base. Yes, they have now raised the other foot and are aiming the pistol carefully. Bang!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The new iPhone price increase

I'm watching buyers lined up to be the first to buy the new Apple iPhone here on Day One. To this group, price is no object. But after the rush is over, a number of people will be looking at upgrading to the new, "cheaper" iPhone. But, like we always say, do the math.

The iPhone's US carrier, AT&T, will be charging more each month for the new iPhone, probably at least $480 over a 2 -year contract. Look completely past the purchase price and determine if the cost over time still works for you. In our opinion, the "new" iPhone isn't that much of an upgrade over the old, and few AT&T markets have 3G available, yet. Also, the first day introduction of the phone came up with a significant problem: the phones would not sync with iTunes at the stores. Just that fact that an iTunes account is required gives me pause to reconsider.

While waiting for the dust to settle, check out the iPhone competitors. Some of these phone models come with more economical plans, and many of them have cool features that are worthy of your consideration. Some also come with faster networks. AT&T's 3G network has a ways to go before it's available in a significant number of markets.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

AT&T Without Alltel?

Much has been discussed about the pros & cons of the upcoming Verizon Wireless-Alltel merger. We wonder what will happen to AT&T coverage after the deal is done. Much of AT&T's rural roaming coverage in the western US is provided by Alltel. Yes, they have an extensive GSM network...a byproduct of their purchase of Cellular One/Western Wireless.

As Verizon's most direct competitor, AT&T could either be offered some of Allltel's precious spectrum and cell sites, or, they could have the entire Alltel GSM network snatched away. Very few people in the industry have anything to say until they see what Verizon will need to give up to get the deal approved by the feds. Verizon says only a small percentage will need to be divested.

We have put together a map showing AT&T's coverage without Alltel. Since we don't know the extent of AT&T's actual roaming on Alltel, we took the extreme example of drawing up a map that excludes all roaming partners in the western US. Fortunately, AT&T has a number of possibilities to keep this from being the disaster it looks like on the map. They can change roaming partners in some areas, and they have lots of of their own PCS (1900 MHz) spectrum available to construct their own cell sites.

Some of these 'repairs' can be made quickly, and others, like adding new cell sites, could take years. But AT&T can't consider changes until the deal shakes out. There's also the possibility that Verizon, either by choice or by mandate, could just leave things as they are. It wouldn't be a bad thing to receive a nice big check for roaming charges from AT&T and T-Mobile each month. Give a little and Take a little, right?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

T-Mobile Raises Text Rates

It really isn't big news that T-mobile has raised their a la cart texting rates to .20 each, however, when a carrier makes a substantial change like this, you normally can get out of your contract, free. While it depends on your specific terms of service, most wireless contracts are legally invalidated by a "substantial change" like this. You should have about 30 days to tell them you want out, or you are assumed to have accepted the new terms. While T-Mobile joins all the other carriers in raising texting fees, they also join the others as they are just now starting to pro-rate their Early Termination Fee.

Texting bundle prices will remain the same, so for those of us who use less texting, it may be worthwhile to consider adding Unlimited texting to our packages. It's almost sad to see what has been one of the more consumer-friendly carriers (they often win the JD Powers satisfaction surveys) do like the others, but a carrier has to eat, right?

Oddly, with this "get out of jail free" card, we don't know of of any T-Mobile customers who want to leave. There's no hope for a satisfied customer, is there?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Town Without Cellular 2

Two and a half years years ago we discovered a town with no cellular coverage. At that time, we reported the small town of Victor, Colorado, an old gold mining town behind Pike's Peak, had no signal from any cellular carrier. This town was small enough to not have many residents, but it had a significant number of tourists...tens of thousands a year. Since then, only T-Mobile has grabbed the opportunity for exclusive service to the community, which also allows AT&T and other GSM roamers coverage.

This past weekend we visited the Nederland, Colorado Art Festival and found another town with the notoriety of no cellular service. The local predecessor to Verizon Wireless, Airtouch, had service there, but no more. AT&T's coverage viewer claims service there, but our AT&T phone was bar-less. This is a real town, almost 2,000 population, and is the first "suburb" in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado. Alas, no coverage. There is some to the north from some carriers, and to the south with others, but not in town. This is also home of the popular "Frozen Dead Guy Days" Festival. Have they no respect for the dead? To add insult to injury, T-Mobile, who saved the town of Victor, claims coverage just west of Nederland at the Eldora Ski Area. However, there's no snow, and nobody home at Eldora.

We asked what happened, but locals claim the cellular carriers just aren't interested, and the carriers themselves claim they are 'looking into it.' It was frustrating carrying around several dead phones hoping one would come alive. The upside was that the little girls attending the local charity pop stand had time to give you their full attention, they weren't constantly watching their cell phone screens. I bet they get their homework done, too.