Monday, February 23, 2009

Totally Wireless at Home-Oh No!

We ran two stories over the last several weeks concerning the move to either being totally wireless at home, or other alternatives to cutting your home land line. Well, we got to experience life with wireless-only ourselves this past weekend when a sloppy telephone company technician somehow disconnected our home phone line at the local wire panel up the street.

Here we were, recommending that users keep at least a bare-bones land line active at home, mostly because of the reliability of wired phone connections. The fact that we needed to "schedule" a repair (which, fortunately only took 24 hours), and convince the repair agent that we didn't cause the problem, certainly bears out that no phone choice is 100% reliable.

We were lucky. Callers to our home phone are automatically forwarded to our cell if we don't answer. Also, the break in the line wasn't enough to disconnect our DSL connection to the Internet. We could have really been up you-know-what creek without a paddle. But it underscores the need for a home communications backup no matter what your connection is to the outside world.

Unlimited at $50

It hasn't been that unusual to get Unlimited cell service at the $50 level. Cricket Wireless and Metro PCS have had plans at $50 and below for some time, and Sprint's Boost Unlimited recently entered the $50 arena utilizing the Nextel network. But now T-Mobile is experimenting with the idea of a $50 Unlimited service. The catch is you need to already be a T-mobile customer for 22 months, and, for the time being, live in San Francisco.

The idea behind this offer must be to retain current T-Mobile customers instead of trying to bring new ones in the door. But if T-Mobile is trying it, the other carriers must be eyeing it. We're surprised it wasn't Sprint who crossed this line before the other Top 4 since they need the help most. They could be hoping the $50 Boost Unlimited offer will pull them out of their tailspin. Or they could be thinking if T-Mobile is confining this to a test market, Sprint could jump out and go National a lot sooner.

Unlimited is good, however, price wars are not. So, while we always try to champion the best deals for customers, we also realize the carriers can't give away the store. So 'right-sizing' plans, by making more plan variations available, is the best course of action. Besides, some of us just don't talk that much.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Winner Is: Oregon!

We try to skim across the PR and News releases from many cellular carriers, mostly looking for changes that affect how our phones perform around the country. That usually means announcements of new coverage. Some carriers are very forthcoming about their improvements, while others are either keeping it a secret, or, aren't adding anything new.

The area of the country that seems to have gained the most new coverage is Oregon where Verizon Wireless added at least 45 new cell sites. Some of this new coverage improved existing Verizon areas, but much of it comes in their newly-acquired Unicel areas. This was exactly our complaint about using our phone in eastern Oregon on our last road trip through that area in 2007. It appears the Verizon takeover of Unicel made for a huge improvement for cellular customers in Oregon and some other ex-Unicel areas. This is a good thing, and frankly, not what we expected. More coverage is a good thing.

The next best buildout in a single area was the 32 cell sites added (over 18 months) to Cellular One in Montana. They have been very aggressive in adding and improving coverage, but we still prefer their old name, Chinook Wireless.

We may have missed some other significant additions, but these stood out. Kudos to Verizon and Cellular One.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Verizon Supports Telular!

In some areas of the country this is big news, in others it's not even worth a shoulder shrug. Recently, Verizon Wireless announced they will start supporting Telular remote telephone service. Telular has been a provider of a simple plug-in home phone service for areas beyond wireline phone service, or locations where installing wired phone service is prohibitively expensive. Verizon has accepted Telular's equipment under their "open development program".

This announcement should have some rural dwellers jumping up and down with joy. In some areas where residents use Telular units on the Alltel network, customers were more than a little concerned as to whether Verizon Wireless would support this service. Previously they did not. Now they will.

This relates to our recent review of replacing home wired phone services with cellular and broadband alternatives. Telular makes using cellular just like using good old landlines with an RJ-11 phone jack and all. They have been around for some time and it's good to see their units will continue to function as a home phone alternative. More kudos to Verizon, who gets points for supporting rural customers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our State Observations

We recently noticed the popularity of our new "General Observations" in a handful of our State Cellular Carrier Reviews. We didn't think it was a big deal, but visitors have shown us otherwise. We hesitated pointing it out because these observations are limited to just a few states, but it's just the kind of opinion some people are looking for.

So, if you're looking for a general review of how carriers compare across the state in (forgive the abbreviations) AZ, CA, CO, ID, KS, MT, NV, OH, OR, TX, WA, or WY, visit these individual state reviews and get our take on how the top carriers perform within those states. By popular demand, we're also researching AK, ND, SD and ME for these reports. We're dragging our feet on reviews of states where Alltel is still a major player because things could change substantially, for better or worse, depending on whatever happens to their divested network.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Losing Hope for "My Circle"

In an interview in RCR Wireless magazine, Verizon spokesperson, Robin Nichol, outlined the steps expected to be followed in the transition of Alltel non-divested areas into the Verizon Wireless network. Ms. Nichol compared the upcoming process to the current transition of the recently-acquired RCC/Unicel properties. The big news we can take from this report is that "Nicol said the RCC’s rate plans will be mapped and when a customers’ service agreement ends, they will have to choose from Verizon Wireless plans."

We would expect a company as large as Verizon to ask customers to "join in" instead of allowing a few thousand exceptions to the corporate offerings. This means if you're an Alltel customer in a non-divested market, you have two options. You can sign a new 2-year contract and keep your Alltel plan for that period, or find a way to stay with the divested part of Alltel.

So far, AT&T and private investors are the leading candidates for the divested Verizon/Alltel/RCC markets. But if our favored takeover candidate, US Cellular, is the winning bidder, the chances are even less you'll be able to keep your old Alltel plan. For now, Alltel divested customers will stay in limbo, but will do so on what is still a great network with great plans. We will concede that "My Circle" was really a stopgap measure as all carriers slowly evolve toward Unlimited plans. That is, until all cellular service begins to be provided by just 2 or 3 mega-carriers. Long-live the small guys!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Metro PCS Goes Apples & Beans

Today, Metro PCS announced they are now operating in New York City and Boston. This is a nice competitor to arrive in those cities, which brings the Metro PCS flavor of Unlimited service to some really major markets. They offer service in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Tampa, and Sacramento, and with their coming to The Big Apple and Bean Town, they may have truly "arrived".

With their roaming relationship with Cricket Wireless, Metro PCS now offers a rather substantial Unlimited footprint across the country. It's not National, but it's good. And Cricket's customers also benefit with the availability of Unlimited service in these new Metro PCS markets.

If the two carriers play nice, they stand to gain almost as much as if they actually merged. For now, this relationship holds up as long as the partners sleep in separate beds. If they keep improving like this, somebody's gonna notice. For now, we sure like the idea of Unlimited service across most of these large cities for as little as $30 a month. And you thought it wouldn't happen...