Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Life for Voice Mail Numbers

Those secret "back door' voice mail numbers are taking on a new popularity. For years, many of the numbers were being retired, and re-assigned to unsuspecting new customers. Lately, we have been making additons to the list instead of deletions. Part of the attraction of these numbers was that they also qualified as "mobile to mobile" numbers which were a free call to subscribers with the proper plan.

The new life being experienced with the numbers came with the advent of the "My Circle", "My Favs" and now Verizon's new "Friends and Family" plans. Users are adding their local voice mail number to their group of free calls, and can leave messages for their co-carrier friends without charge, even if they no longer qualify as Mobile to Mobile calls.

This also hints of the possibilities with those who have Grand Central, Google Voice or similar forwarding services. The carriers are keeping these plans under control by giving them a premium price, but with clever use of these and the "back door" numbers, we'll find a way to approach Unlimited calling whether the carriers offer it or not. Yay.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PRL Updates- Do we care?

The Preferred Roaming List (PRL) that is used by CDMA cellular carriers seems to no longer be as great a concern as it was in previous years. The actual text interpretations have become harder to come by mostly because it has been a volunteer effort, and when those volunteers become less passionate about creating and posting those lists, it may reflect a general malaise about the PRL process.

Customers could (and still can) pick and choose which PRL is downloaded to their phone, some by timing their PRL update, and others by actually downloading the desired PRL. As roaming partners disappear, so does the desire, and need, to control a individual user's list of roaming partners. Most GSM users seem to actually want their MNC updates to come sooner rather than later.

Also, by example, as Verizon PRL's begin to favor their own newly-acquired Alltel and Unicel properties, they will reduce the roaming payments to smaller carriers like US Cellular, making it more difficult for them to survive as independents. This isn't a sinister plot, this is the evolution of Verizon realizing the savings they gain by owning their roaming partners.

So, as our roaming experience improves, our need for 'custom' PRL's diminishes. And as the larger carriers absorb their roaming partners, the savings will result in lower wireless bills for us...won't they?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Can US Cellular Survive?

Today an article from Reuters reports that some of US Cellular's owners are pushing to sell the network to a larger rival. They claim US Cellular won't be able to keep up with the Big 4 carriers and income will erode as the larger carriers introduce more expensive technologies. The sad part is that many of us were hoping that US Cellular would be the buyer of the Alltel divested markets that must be spun off by Verizon Wireless. In the last report of buyers interested in Alltel, US Cellular wasn't among them, and now we may know why.

Fortunately, the owners who want US Cellular to sell out have only a 15% stake in the parent company, TDS. The people with the power in US Cellular is the Carlson family who controls 51% of the votes. These private owners can do what they please, even if owning the 6th largest cellular company in the US doesn't make maximum use of financial assets. They could hold on to the company just for the fun of it. And we hope they do.

We're also still hoping that the Alltel leftovers will be used to either add to or create a new regional cellular carrier, and maybe those new owners might look at buying both Alltel and US Cellular. It should scare everyone reading this that there is a possibility we will could lose yet another large carrier, and even maintaining all of the Big 4 is in question. Hello...is there someone with a few extra billion available to keep these carriers out of the wrong hands? Please.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Caller ID Warning

This experience occured with a prepaid wireless account, but it also applies to any Customer Service department you contact. I was using my home land line to port a prepaid account from one carrier to another recently, and was surprised to find the agent not only knew my name, she even spelled it correctly. Since it was prepaid, how did she know? Well, Caller ID of course.

The home land line normally transmits not only the number, but also the name of the wired phone account holder, who may or may not be related to the account you're calling about. With prepaid wireless, you would rather not have your personal information that well known. I wasn't really aware of what happened until I accessed the wireless account online and found they had actually spelled my name right for the first time! How did they know?

If you want to preserve your privacy, the solution is to either call from the line you are actually inquiring about, or to block Caller ID from the phone you're using. This can normally be done by preceding the number you are calling with: "*67" (star-6-7). On land line phones this is followed by the 'stutter' tone, after which you can dial the rest of the number. This blocks Caller ID for just that one call.

Yes, it's actually kind of distressing that my prepaid account knows how to spell my name...go figure.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Think Globally, Buy Locally

Every few years we beat the drum in praise of the small, local wireless carriers. In our research for The Unwired Home web site, we looked at Alternatives to the land line phone. In several small markets, the alternatives are provided by the local land line company. As co-ops, they really do want to provide the best service possible for their "members", and that often means you can get an economic replacement for the old school land line.

There is also a handful of small wired carriers who cooperate to offer wireless service, like NextTech Wireless in Kansas, which can be used to either replace the land line, or can be bundled to give you a better deal overall. These companies aren't concerned about you switching your calls to your broadband connection, they offer that, too.

Like we do in all our Reviews, we encourage you to check the plans from your very local wireless carriers who may offer a much better deal than the Big Boys, including Unlimited calling, national roaming and broadband services. They're doing the right thing, you should, too.

Monday, March 2, 2009

T-Mobile $50 Unlimited Goes National

Either the 1-market test in the Bay Area went better, and faster, than they thought, or T-Mobile decided it was smarter to strike while the rumors are hot. We only reported it a week ago and now T-Mobile's new $50 Unlimited Voice plan is available nationwide. The plan limited to customers of 22 months or more prevents an immediate price war, but it certainly gives them something to talk about in the other cellular carrier offices.

For another $35 you can get Text and Data tossed in and we're off to the races...not the wars. You still get more with the Boost Unlimited $50 plan where everything's included, as well as the various offers from Cricket Wireless and Metro PCS. But if you want to stay with T-Mobile, get ready to talk, or text, it up.