Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Cord Cutting

A few weeks ago we reported How to Go Totally Wireless and created a web page on how to do it. The big response to that page inspired us to expand that page into an entirely new web site, The Unwired Home. The new site includes both Wireless and Broadband alternatives to the home landline, updated with even more considerations, comparisons and alternatives.

We are biased toward cellular solutions in replacing the home phone, but we also admit to the value of keeping some kind of wired home phone. We also acknowledge the huge savings of some of the broadband alternatives. If you're considering the switch, make sure you review the pros & cons, and do the math.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sprint Rents Out Alaska Spectrum

One of the best investments of the 20th Century was Sprint's purchase of PCS spectrum that covered the entire US. For a few billion dollars, Sprint owned wireless real estate that today costs tens of billions of dollars. Sprint was recently granted an application to the FCC to lease their PCS Alaska spectrum to Alaska Digitel, a CDMA carrier.

Even though there's lots of room for cellular service in Alaska, Alaska Digitel has as little as 15 MHz of spectrum across the state but wants more to serve the greater broadband needs of their own customers and CDMA roamers. The long-term leasing agreement gives them 66% more spectrum to work with.

Many of us had been hoping that Sprint would eventually build their own network in the 49th state, but since Sprint made this application late in 2007, it wasn't to be. The good news is that Alaska Digitel will be able to improve their service to the point that Sprint customers will be able to roam on a network superior to one Sprint could build on their own. That fact is even more important in recent months as Sprint goes through some severe economic troubles. They still own the frequencies, but Alaska Digitel will expand on them, we get more coverage, and Sprint gets a monthly check. It's a win-win...we think.

Monday, January 26, 2009

T-Mobile's Extra Effort

T-Mobile rates high in our recommendations, and part of that experience comes from the fact that we rarely need to talk to their customer service. All of our T-Mobile phones are prepaid and everything has been better than expected, including coverage. But last week I threw them a challenge.

One of our 'backup' phones was a 7-Eleven prepaid phone, SpeakOut, which uses the AT&T wireless network and a handful of roaming partners. Their claim to fame was a cheap prepaid phone available over the counter at their stores that come 'pre-activated'. It's a perfect "glove box" phone whose minutes don't expire for a full year. One of our SpeakOut phones even had a fun phone number.

SpeakOut costs have been slowly creeping up to the point where a small $25 yearly renewal wasn't enough to keep the phone active, even without using any minutes. So, with the latest rate increase I thought I would take that fun phone number and transfer it over to our main T-Mobile line. We were going to do our first "number port". I thought this would be difficult enough to be impossible since SpeakOut phones are operated by a small MVNO, Ztar Wireless (pronounced "star").

I was absolutely floored by T-Mobile's performance. Making the initial request was a bit difficult because I had so much trouble understanding the customer service agent. I was eventually transferred to their "Number Transfer Center" and had my account handled by a very capable person who explained everything that had already occurred and what hoops she needed to jump through to make it happen. The next day that agent called me and said the process was complete and apologized that it took so long. The transfer went into a second day because Ztar is too small to have their own number transfer center, so T-Mobile helped them, as well!

The process makes for an interesting story itself, but let me say instead, T-mobile definitely deserves the JD Power customer satisfaction awards they have been winning over the last few years. Let's go find some more phone numbers to transfer, this is fun!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The "Best" Cellular Phone

Over the years, Consumer Reports has improved the way they compare cellular phones and service. In their January, 2009 issue, their results matched our own Carrier Reviews almost perfectly. We rarely look at specific phone models, but we thought we would mention the top-rated phones as reported in their magazine.

The model with the absolute highest score was the Samsung BlackJack II from AT&T. This is a great Smart Phone that is comes in at Number 1 on a list that rates the Apple iPhone 3G only at #10! And let me note that the Blackjack II is currently $80 at AT&T, but you can get it FREE at our cellular retail affiliate, Wirefly! As you know, the "Best" phone is different with each carrier: Verizon's Top-rated phone was the LG Dare, T-Mobile's was the Motorola ROKR E8, Sprint's was the Sanyo Katana Eclipse and AT&T's Top non-Smart Phone was the Pantech Breeze. We would like to add each "Top" phone is only a few points higher than the next few below it.

Most of the top phones have some kind of a "touch" screen. Yes, the pendulum has swung the other way: "flip" phones are now preferred less than "bar" phones. And while all the manufacturers have been looking for an iPhone "killer", Consumer Reports says it's already killed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vote American Idol & Get SPAM

AT&T sent a Text Message recently to about 3% of their wireless customers advertising the upcoming season of American Idol. The recipients were mostly those who voted in previous Idol competitions, but also included "heavy texters" and a few others. Except those who truly feared they might miss the next round of bad-singing Idol applicants, this was considered rude by those who got the no-charge text, and many thought it was illegal, like it is in Europe. It's not.

Some cellular carriers, most notably Verizon Wireless, have been fighting to prevent SPAM from arriving on their customers' phones, but AT&T turns out to be the originator of one of the largest SPAM events of all-time. Will AT&T take heed, or is it a view of things to come? A vote for your favorite American Idol is a vote for SPAM!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Verizon Must Divest Carefully

We have heard of, and from, several Alltel customers who either want to become customers of Verizon Wireless, or prefer to stay with Alltel in the hopes of keeping what they see as better plans or better service. Some of them are changing their phone numbers and account address to make sure they follow their chosen direction.

Those concerned about how closely Verizon will determine which customers are divested and those who are not, need to note the $2 Million fine imposed by the Department of Justice on AT&T for improperly absorbing what should have been divested customers from the Cellular One/Dobson purchase. This means Verizon must step very carefully through their list of non-divested customers to avoid a similar fine.

For now, it appears your divested status will be based on the home market of your phone number. Keep in mind you could be a customer of Alltel, Unicel or Verizon itself and, depending on market, be divested. The good news is that if you are considered divested, you will eventually have the choice of Verizon or the new carrier. It's just that Verizon can't "adjust" that choice. That's "poaching".

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Commnet Buys CC Communications Cellular

Commnet Wireless, a division of Atlantic Tele-Network, has purchased the cellular network of CC Communications in Nevada. While CC has good coverage across western Nevada, it could be better. Commnet has promised to upgrade CC's network. Commnet has been expanding quite a bit over the last few years, but mostly as a roaming-only carrier. This acquisition makes them a "real" carrier with an extended presence across many small parts of the country. CC Communications will still be able to offer cellular service as part of their other communications packages.

CC currently offers CDMA phones and Commnet provides both CDMA and GSM service for roamers from most of their other sites. Since Verizon is taking over Alltel, the other cellular carrier in the area, Commnet may become the GSM roaming carrier in the neighborhood, maybe by just adding GSM to each of CC's 50 sites, like they have in much of Commnet's existing network.

We usually find it sad to lose an independent carrier, but this is a one for one deal that may lead to bigger things for Commnet. Wanna bet? (This is in Nevada, after all)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Text Is Your Backup

Have you noticed that when you need to make a really important call, that's when your phone loses service? Especially for those of us who mostly talk on our phone, that's the time to consider Text. Text Messaging works when trying to contact any other wireless subscriber and all you need to know is their phone number. This is your backup for when there is a hurricane, you're in a bad coverage area, or you're at a convention and everybody else is using their phone.

Your phone will 'hold' the message until it can receive a clear signal, then sends it off. It is also an inexpensive way to communicate internationally as Text is billed at rates much lower than roaming voice calls. Additionally, you should become aware of how other callers can send a Text Message to you, in case the emergency is at their end.

If I had a problem, my wife would see a strange icon on her phone and wonder how to get rid of it. Explain Texting to your your family, especially incoming. Or just have the kids explain it. They are the kings of Text. As if you didn't already see that on your bill.

BTW, we added this to our cool list of Wireless Tips & Tricks.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Verizon Takes Over Alltel

We're reprinting part of Verizon's news release below. We have updated our maps of the divested areas and added a List of Counties that Verizon will be divesting (selling to another company). We also revised our review of Alltel and revised our Ratings page to reflect that Verizon is now the largest cellular carrier in the US.

"Verizon Wireless Completes Purchase Of Alltel; Creates Nation's Largest Wireless Network:
Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications announced today it has completed its purchase of Alltel Corporation from Atlantis Holdings LLC. Consistent with the terms of the transaction announced on June 5, 2008, Verizon Wireless paid approximately $5.9 billion for the equity of Alltel. Immediately prior to the closing, the Alltel debt associated with the transaction, net of cash, was approximately $22.2 billion.

The acquisition expands Verizon Wireless' network coverage to approximately 290 million people, nearly the entire United States population, and increases the company's customers by 12.9 million, after conforming adjustments and before required divestitures, making it the largest wireless carrier in the country with more than 83.7 million total customers, based on third quarter 2008 reported results from both companies. Approximately 2.1 million of those total customers are in markets that will be divested by Verizon Wireless in the coming months, as required by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a condition of the merger approval.

In markets that will be retained and combined with Verizon Wireless' operations, the company will continue to use the Alltel brand for the next several months, as it works to integrate networks, convert billing systems and upgrade high-speed wireless broadband service. Verizon Wireless will maintain Alltel's existing GSM networks in retained Alltel markets to continue serving the roaming needs of GSM carriers' customers.

Alltel customers in markets to be retained will receive a letter during the next few weeks informing them about the purchase and the wide array of new and advanced services that will be available to them when they transition to Verizon Wireless, including the latest wireless data services delivered on the nation's largest 3G high-speed wireless broadband network. In addition, when Alltel systems are upgraded in the near future, Alltel customers will have access to the largest mobile-to-mobile calling community in the country, allowing them to use their mobile-to-mobile minutes for calls with Verizon Wireless customers without using their plan minutes.

Alltel customers do not need to take any action at this time. Customers' current service plans, prices and features, including My Circle, will remain the same throughout the transition. Verizon Wireless will notify customers, by mail, about any changes that may impact their service in the future. Since Verizon Wireless and Alltel use the same technology platform, the vast majority of customers will be able to use their current handset after the transition to Verizon Wireless. Additional information for customers is available at

Verizon Wireless will re-brand Alltel operations in the retained markets in phases, beginning in the second quarter and continuing through the third quarter of 2009, as billing conversions are completed throughout the country. During the transition period, Alltel-branded stores will remain open to serve customers. Alltel employees below executive level will continue in their present jobs as Verizon Wireless assesses staffing needs required to best serve customers and achieve synergies.

As a condition of the regulatory approvals by the DOJ and the FCC that were required to complete the Alltel purchase, Verizon Wireless will divest overlapping properties in 105 markets across 24 states. Alltel operations will be divested in most of these markets. Verizon Wireless will divest its own pre-merger operations in four markets, as well as the Rural Cellular Corporation (RCC) operations in southern Minnesota and western Kansas, operating under the Unicel brand, which Verizon Wireless acquired last August.

Verizon Wireless has placed licenses and assets for the markets to be divested in a management trust. The trust will continue to operate the markets under their current brands until they are sold to one or more buyers. As a result, these markets will not be integrated into Verizon Wireless operations.

Verizon Wireless expects to realize synergies with a net present value, after integration costs, of more than $9 billion, driven by aggregate capital and operating expense savings."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Going Totally Wireless

Figures from both the wireless industry and the federal government report that the number of households that are wireless-only for their phone service has passed the 14% mark and may soon be 20%. This evolution is called "Wireless Substitution" and includes homes where only certain family members use a wired line.

We have created a web page just for those who are considering 'cutting the cord' and going totally wireless. There are a number of pros and cons and a few things to consider before making the leap. What surprised us is how much more expensive wireline service is in some markets. In this age of customers not only having the choice of wireless substitution but also separate IP (Internet Protocol) phone service, it's surprising that wireline phone companies continue to raise their prices.

Our phone company offers bundles, inclusing discounts if I pay for wireless through them, but their own phone service packages are nowhere near as inclusive as the features offered by the most basic wireless plan.

Oh, and there's that group of people who are just plain angry at their phone company, and for them, price is no object. We're with you on that one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

America's New Unlimited Network

A sharp-eyed reader pointed out that the new extended Unlimited coverage offered by Cricket Wireless and Metro PCS includes more than just their own two networks. A close inspection shows they feature coverage from several smaller carriers, some really small. This has enabled these companies to offer their flavor of Unlimited voice and text services across a wide area of the country without paying hefty roaming fees to the likes of Verizon or Sprint.

These smaller carriers provide free Unlimited roaming when you subscribe to a plan with a certain minimum, as low as $50, and maybe lower. This brings to mind the days when we hoped those new networks being built by Voicestream (now T-Mobile) or Sprint PCS would come to our town with those lower prices. Now it's cheaper Unlimited we hope marches across the country.

For a time it looked like Cricket and Metro PCS would merge and offer some "national" competition to the large carriers on their own. Now they may have done one better with roaming agreements that allow operation in even more markets. Some also provide a real national roaming option, just not Unlimited. Let's hope this ball keeps rolling and doesn't get stopped by the loss of some of these Alltel? Too late.

Monday, January 5, 2009

We Want to Be Divested!

As the day Verizon Wireless takes over most of Alltel approaches, we have heard from a small group of clever Alltel users who have chosen not to allow themselves to become customers of Verizon. This group is taking our advice one step further and taking the pro-active step of "moving" their Alltel account to a market to be divested by Verizon.

These people are using a variety of methods to remove themselves from the path of the oncoming Verizon steamroller. Some are changing their phone number to one in a divested market, others are changing their account billing address, and a few are doing both in the hopes of avoiding Verizon's clutches...or advantages.

Don't panic! With the merger officially occurring this Friday, January 9th, you should still have a chance to escape the Verizon takeover after the fact. While Verizon will try to woo you into their fold with enticing deals, you may also have the chance to escape and join whatever the divested Alltel areas become. And that list is growing: Add Sprint, Revol Wireless, Metro PCS and others to the list of possible suitors to the cast off Alltel areas. Just show me the money.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Alltel Year

Verizon Wireless becomes the largest wireless carrier in the nation on January 9th when they absorb most of the Alltel network and customers. New PRL's have already been issued and more will be coming. But the big story is what happens to the Divested network and customers. The FCC starts a timer that day, and if Verizon doesn't shed the assets required by the divestiture within 60 days, the feds take over the system and do what they want.

For now, those divested markets will stay as Alltel until Verizon decides what to do next. Our guess is that most will be taken over by US Cellular, which would be a good thing. Other possibilities include selling off markets piece by piece, or the whole enchilada going to investors creating a whole new carrier. It will take somebody with excellent credit or deep pockets to make it happen. Gone are the days of easy money for projects that may pay off some day. Verizon is making loans with 8 institutions to make the Alltel deal happen.

There's always the chance of a surprise, and that might be fun, too. There is the remote possibility of a trade and/or sale to AT&T, especially if it makes financial sense. Mark your calendar and start your timers. tick-tick-tick.