Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cellular Carrier Changes

When you don't see a blog entry for a few days, you know we're either roaming or our noses are buried in serious web site updating. This time we have been checking our links among our Review Pages, visiting the associated web sites, and calling some of the carriers to get additional information. It's something we do on a regular basis, with a complete update at least once a year. We found some changes, but no big surprises:

Airpeak Wireless just plain moved from northern Nevada to southeast California. We've never seen a network move before.

Brazos Cellular in Texas sold out to AT&T.

Also in Texas, West Central Wireless took over 5 Star Wireless, but the two are still operated separately, although with nearly identical plans.

Cellular One of Northeast Arizona, the only carrier that serves the entire Navajo Nation, has stopped hosting their site at Why did they change their mind? Hopefully, it has nothing to do with the flap over the actual location of the real 4 Corners!

Sagebrush Cellular is now called Nemont Telephone (as in NorthEast MONTana) to reflect the name of parent telephone cooperative.

Wilkes Wireless, the phone company in Georgia that shunned wireless customers, changed their name to Via Wireless and now at least gives you an online application you can send in to ask for wireless service. Who would bother with an application when you can just call any other carrier to start service? And why did they bother changing the name?

As usual, we recommend you check the offers from the smaller carriers in your state. Some of them offer a truly superior product.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mexico Roaming Update

Our trip for Spring Break this year was to Asia, so we're depending on the reports from Mexico that are trickling in from other beach-goers. The first notable change is that the 2 top GSM carriers, Movistar and TelCel have both lowered the number of minutes you get with their "Pay Per Call" plans, now at 15 minutes per call to the US, with each call costing about $1.50USD per 15 minute segment. That is still a good deal, but it's only half the number of minutes originally offered with these plans a couple years ago.

Sprint users were especially disappointed to find their roaming charges are now $1.69USD per minute, and their Text Messaging doesn't work in Mexico at all! It's ironic Sprint is one of the top roaming phones in the US, but not so south of the border. However, Nextel phones work quite well, but not for Voice or Text, but for the time being, free Internet access. Is it a glitch or a real promotion? Enjoy it while you can.

Alltel users are still getting their calls at no extra charge in Mexico (and Canada) with their North America Freedom plans. Still no word on what might happen with these plans. Considering renewing for another 2 years.

All changes are reflected on our Mexico Roaming Page. Of course, we'll need risk sunburn and head down there later this year to find out for ourselves, especially with a wi-fi phone. Now, if the carriers there would just let us "press 2 for English" like they do in Asia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Alltel Auction reported earlier this week that there were 4 bidders for the Alltel properties that must be divested by Verizon Wireless. In a quiet auction, the list of potential buyers includes AT&T, US Cellular, the Blackstone Group, and a joint bid from KKR & Co. and Carlyle Group. Missing from the report is Cox Communications who, as recently as 2 months ago, was reported to be considering the Alltel assets. Reuters reports that Verizon Wireless claimed there were 30 bidders showing interest in various Alltel properties.

Whew, it's a relief that US Cellular is still in the running. It's also good news that an investment group is making a bid, although there is no guarantee that they will keep the Alltel network separate. They could just slice up the pieces and re-sell them to bidders that couldn't afford the bigger package. For consumers, it would be beneficial if these investors would keep the Alltel network independent, but we could also benefit if these properties were combined with another network, maybe even US Cellular. But the business world rarely makes that kind of sense. It's all about the money. And there may be bidders we'll never know about.

Verizon Wireless has about a month left to identify the buyers before the feds take over. Nobody wants that to happen. The taxpayers have a bunch of toxic assets on our hands, already.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cellular in the 3rd World

I'm recently back from a trip to Nepal, a small country between India and China, where cellular service was surprising good and easy to get. Several US carriers claim their phones work there, and they do, but at roaming charges that are at least $1.49US per minute, and more commonly as high as $3US per minute.

As has been our recommendation, such as on our Mexico Roaming page, a very economical option has been to buy a local GSM SIM from a foreign cellular dealer and install it in your unlocked GSM phone. But when you get far from home (half way around the globe), your phone needs 900 or 1800 MHz capabilities, and you need to try a little harder to find just a SIM without the complications of buying a whole phone and a plan.

I hope you can imagine how happy we were when we arrived at the Pokhara, Nepal airport to
the see the billboard shown on the right, advertising the purchase of a cellular SIM. Most dealers will sell you a SIM (at about $5US) without the normal documentation. However, large refill cards are rare so you either need to have the dealer refill for you, or you need to enter a bunch of codes from very small refill cards. As is normal, incoming calls are free. Calls TO the US were as much as .56US per minute. The local LD stores charge as much as .60US, so cellular is a money-saver, if there are sufficient circuits to make the call. Power outages make this a common problem.

But the bigger savings is for local calls where a local SIM gets you a rate of as little as .05US per minute. Who do we call? First, there are the taxi drivers who don't always know where they're going. And there is our Sherpa, to help us carry our baggage and supplies. They all have their own cell phone, often with dual-SIM capabilities, while trekking in the Himalayas. I can carry my own phone, thank you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Does Your Family Still Want the Home Phone?

This isn't another story about cutting the cord at home, but it can be. MetroPCS today introduced a service called GroupLINE, which gives members of a MetroPCS Family plan a single phone number that can be called to reach all family members on their wireless phones.

We give MetroPCS credit for taking one more obstacle out of the way of the family who still wants that common family home phone, but without a land line. The GroupLINE number can be called by any family member or outsider who wants to contact the whole family or any non-specific family member. It's only $5 a month additional.

In these tighter economic times, carriers like MetroPCS are doing well, especially among those who either want to pay less for cellular, or who want to drop their home phone. Don't we love it when they save us money?