Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our 4th Anniversary

We almost let it pass without a comment. It was September 2004 when we posted our first news and commentary pages, and we still have enough readers to keep it going today. In those first weeks our stories included Qwest Wireless and Cellular One/Western Wireless, two carriers who have since disappeared. Commentary elsewhere on our web site got both carriers to talk to us.

We are averaging 10 stories per month and hope to keep it going as long as there are stories we can give a consumer-biased view. Most of the other wireless press seems slanted toward the cellular carriers. We'll call it as we see it. Champagne anyone?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cricket and Metro PCS Play Nice Again

Leap Wireless, the parent company of Cricket Wireless, is again talking nicely to their flat-rate twin, Metro PCS. While we hate to lose any cellular carriers though consolidation, the combination of Cricket Wireless and Metro PCS makes a lot of sense. The two have similar products and customers and complimentary networks. And now they have buried their differences and signed an agreement with each other for reciprocal roaming, spectrum exchanges and to end their legal differences. Could a merger be on the horizon?

The roaming agreements mean that even though the two haven't merged, their phones will act like they have, and should give each others' customers a lot more territory to enjoy their flavor of Unlimited services, and makes each others' plans that much more valuable. More spectrum means more data services available from both.

Cricket's $35 plan offers free roaming "in every Cricket market", and we would hope that will soon include every Metro PCS market as well...and vice versa. An affordable all-you-can-eat buffet! Don't over stuff yourself.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Always a Cheaper Way

My brother dove into the wireless pool recently with both feet. He signed up for a monthly plan and got a gee-whiz phone with a QWERTY keyboard and touch screen. After a few months he's ready to pay the Early Termination Fee (ETF) because his minimum charges are $70 a month and he's only making a few calls, sending a few Text Messages, replies to some email, and visits the web even less.

At that rate he's looking at $1,680 over 2 years for way too little use. He's the kind of customer we at Mountain Wireless try to help. He decided he can't replace his laptop with an 'Internet' phone, no matter how friendly the keyboard, and he can't justify that high a rate for so little use. He needed to Do The Math.

Instead of dumping wireless cold turkey, I showed him my old T-Mobile phone, which, after the initial payment, costs me about $25 a year for occasional use. If my brother makes about 30 minutes of calls and exchanges about 30 messages a month, more than his current average, he would pay a whopping $5.25 per month with this simple T-Mobile To Go Phone. He would get Voice Mail, Caller ID, Email, Text Messaging, access to a smattering of useful web sites and, after he arrives at "Gold Rewards", only needs to refill once a year. Oh, and the phone works in most other countries. And this isn't the only option, but it's one we like. Don't less this get out, but here's always a (really) cheaper way.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Number Love

Like a lot of wireless users, it was important for me to have a "good" number. My first wireless number was outstanding...it ended with "4500." That was da bomb until I received more than my share of erroneous calls made to a business with a similar number. A subsequent change of carriers enabled me to make a few 'adjustments,' and a lesser number was good enough. But it was mine...my personal numeric ID. I could see how happy a large number of users were when they were able to move their numbers from one carrier to another through Wireless Number Portability.

But there's a difference between a familar number and a good number. I actually liked having at least one phone with a forgettable number to share with nosy restaurant clerks and Radio Shack employees. But I recently activated a prepaid phone just because I had a SIM laying around and the number automatically assigned to this phone was top shelf. Like a knockout of a woman who strolls across the room to talk to you, this number had beauty written all over it. What a shame for a phone used for a handful of text messages to have this great a handle. To be, or not to be...ported to one of our "better" phones. Maybe it's time to test out the porting process first-hand.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Going Wireless at Home

Recent figures show that 20% of households in the US have gone wireless-only for their voice communications. It's a trend with no signs of slowing, but it has created a new set of consequences. One of the more serious side effects has been what happens to 911 calls. And even more of a problem, Reverse-911 calls.

Locally, 3 cities have asked the local wire and wireless carriers to expand the Reverse-911 capabilities to include wireless phones. Presumably, the carriers can activate an outgoing call to each customer within a area defined by specific cell sites, or potentially, those customers whose phones return GPS location data within the affected area. However, the infrastructure, logistics and paperwork are a good distance away from making that goal possible.

Even our current system is still far from achieving the alert level that public officials wish they had. My home number was "ported" from another part of town and, yes, I get the occasional call about a lost child or Alzheimer's patient in my old neighborhood, almost an hour away. It makes me wonder what I'm missing closer to home. I'm guessing it's the same thing my wireless- (or VOIP-) only neighbors are missing. Do you care?

The best early-alert system I ever had is when my Aunt Ruth would call all her family and friends to alert them to the perils she had just heard about on TV. Now there's an alert system that spread the word faster than a cold through kindergarten.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Welcome to Alaska

For reasons we won't detail today, we finally added Alaska to our Cellular Reviews. Not only is it still America's frontier, it's a cellular frontier with cellular systems that charge for anything extra, are still analog, or that don't allow automatic roaming. It was a real surprise to find a downloadable form we could fill out to apply for permission to roam on one system, and that was only in analog. A few systems are charging some real bucks and I fear it's their way or no way. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule.

Except for AT&T, all the cellular operators in Alaska are independent. Even AT&T didn't want to be there and sold their assets to Dobson Cellular a few years ago, only to get stuck with them again when they bought Dobson. Fortunately for roamers, coverage for both CDMA and GSM phones is good along most roads.

The last time I was there I think there was one cellular tower. How did we survive?

Oh, we also added Wisconsin to the State Reviews and immediately stirred up some interest. I guess Packers fans really are extremists!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The 20 Cent Lawsuit

Normally we overlook legal affairs of the wireless carriers because these lawsuits come and go. But one legal move just won't go away. There are multiple class action, anti-trust lawsuits against the top 5 wireless carriers, Alltel, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. It seems as though a number of people, or is it a number of lawyers, feel that there is some kind of collusion among these carriers because they all recently raised their a la carte Text Messaging rates to .20 each. That is the basis of lawsuits filed in Ohio, Illinois and Kansas.

We're not quick to come to the defense of the now-too-large wireless carriers, but in this case, what's wrong with 20 cents? I agree it's outrageously high, but if all carriers are being sued for charging that price, why aren't they also being penalized for all having a $39.99 price place, or a $99 Unlimited plan?

I can smell attorney's fees and out-of-court settlements that will not benefit the customer with anything other than higher prices or reduced services. I have yet to receive my free headset from the AT&T settlement of 2002, and even though my Campbell settlement from Verizon Wireless involves a cash discount, that is still over a year away. Real people don't win anything from these lawsuits.

What do we do? I handed my SpeakOut prepaid phone to my son so he can Text away at .05 per text, and if I should want to send a Text, I'll use my T-Mobile to Go phone which is still .05 in/.10 out. Normally, I just use my monthly minutes of use (MOU) and send an email to these addresses for no additional cash charge. Make money in wireless? Be an attorney!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sprint is 'Ready Now' to Catch Up

Earlier this week we were refining the Mountain Wireless Ratings Page and noted that Sprint/Nextel is still one of just a few carriers with below average customer service. As if they were listening to us, Sprint announced a new "Ready Now" program this week which involves teaching employees at Sprint stores to sit down with a customer and explain the use and features of their new phone. This is a good example of playing catch up...Sprint should have been doing this all along.

Sprint is watching their customers leave in droves and we know it's not the network, it's how they're being treated. That won't be improved by a lecture at the store. It will be improved with better customer service internally. They need agents who are empowered to solve problems on the first call, and who are supported enough to actually want to help their customers. All carriers say they want to improve their customer service, but it can't be done with pay scales that are too low to keep quality people, and it can't be done without incentives to do whatever it takes to keep paying customers.

Sprint has some great new phones, and they have a good-performing network, but they have run out of feet to shoot themselves in.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

September Web Site Updates

When this page isn't being updated we're either roaming or updating some of our web pages. Scott and I have added some new maps at The Cellular Map Source. First, we reflected the takeover of Unicel (Rural Cellular) by Verizon Wireless in our Regional 850 MHz Cellular License Maps. Several markets are still in the hands of Unicel until they can be sold to another company, so most Unicel markets are still shown under that name. And Unicel customers can sit and wait a little longer. Hellooo...are you listening US Cellular?

We also posted a new 3g Coverage Comparison Maps for Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The maps were created by Verizon who has a lot to brag about, so keep that in mind. We also finally posted a new Metro PCS "National" map. We have some new Unlimited plans posted, including several new Unlimited "Family" plans. Also, corolada.com turned over to us their Alltel Back Door Voice Mail Numbers list. Don't confuse them with the new Cellular Back Door retail site, which provides sites like ours all our phone and service discount links.

We also transferred over all the PRL, SID and MNC pages over to a new site, The Roaming Zone, which contains the familiar roaming lists along with additional roaming advice. Look there for updated data, but the older links will still work at Mountain Wireless. I'm going to take nap...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

US Cellular Aims for Alltel Spinoffs?

This week US Cellular, and their parent company TDS, announced the moving of their stock exchange listings from the American Stock Exchange to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). When a company moves to the NYSE, they are presumed to become a "bigger player". This may be totally unrelated, but wouldn't it make sense that US Cellular is gearing up to hit the financial markets to take out a loan so they can purchase the assets of Alltel that Verizon Wireless is about to sell for approval of their acquisition of Alltel?

Verizon did just this same kind of deal when they combined Bell Atlantic Mobile, GTE Cellular, Airtouch and several other companies to create Verizon Wireless in 2000, and spun off the 'extras' to Alltel. A deal with US Cellular would satisfy the feds, place the network in 'friendly' hands, and keep it away from AT&T who still has serious gaps in the western US. And US Cellular just happens to be a CDMA carrier like Alltel.

We were holding off writing a story about such a deal because it seemed like a "wish list", but now with US Cellular entering the circus center ring, they just may be ready to play with the big boys. Are you feeling the tingle, too?