Friday, July 31, 2009

Small Carriers to the Rescue

Our last article, reflecting our worries about reduced roaming capabilities, struck a cord among several users, including a few who posted here on the blog. Of their biggest concerns are the potential loss of roaming on the major carriers, most notably AT&T and Verizon Wireless. One of the bright spots we did not point out was the fact that there are several small carriers who are filling a handful of these voids and may become critically important.

Cricket's latest coverage map shows available roaming in some surprisingly remote locations, and a lack of coverage in some mainstream locales. Further review shows Cricket depending on some extremely small carriers like Farmers Mutual Telephone Company of Idaho, and Strata Networks in the states surrounding northeast Utah, and less roaming on Verizon or Sprint. Using a T-Mobile phone showed some pleasant surprises with roaming on Viaero Wireless in Nebraska and Colorado, and Cellular one of Texahoma. Another player who may see gains as a roaming partner is Commnet Wireless who supplies coverage to both CDMA and GSM customers and focuses on coverage in "surprising" locations.

These small carriers have become an important part of the roaming mix. Some of them are doing very well as they provide a much better choice for local users. Others are slipping downhill, likely due to a lack of local promotion and forward-thinking service. Over the years, we have posted articles in praise of the small regional carriers (the most recent on March 9th), mostly because of what they offer the Local user. Now, it's what they offer all of us.

More than ever before, I heartily encourage you to consider these smaller cellular companies for your cellular service. Most of us do not have these great alternatives available, however many do have that choice in suburbs of some large cities and don't even know it. Always include them when considering a new carrier. We'll keep our data base up to date so you can include them in your decision. Our roaming future may depend on it!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Roam Rage

Since the announcement of the takeover of Alltel by Verizon Wireless, we have been predicting an eventual increase in roaming rates, and a reduction of roaming capabilities. Even more serious is the total loss of GSM roaming in some of those areas. AT&T will maintain some of that GSM coverage, and ATN should as well. But with so much roaming coverage controlled by just AT&T and Verizon, we can’t help but think the coverage of Sprint, T-Mobile and dozens of smaller carriers are in peril. Fortunately, the news is not yet all bad.

Verizon Wireless announced today it will allow “in-market” roaming for 2 years for a few of the newer carriers, such as Cricket and MetroPCS, who are still building their own network. This is in addition to Verizon’s agreement with the FCC to maintain the existing Alltel GSM roaming for 4 years, as well as their existing CDMA agreements. After that, things could get scary.

We worry even more about what these and other forces will do to the viability of every other wireless carrier. While we may not have a Sprint to worry about in 4 years, we will have a handful of smaller carriers who may suffer fatal injuries if the “Big 2” start acting like they’re the only game outside of town. And they may be.

Part of this lies in our own hands. Will we subscribe to Cricket knowing it won’t work without extra charges in Montana? Will we cancel Sprint for not providing free roaming in the cornfields of Nebraska? The day of reckoning is still a few years away. Will it be only the buffalo who will roam then?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alltel Keeps Getting Better

We still believe Alltel Wireless is one of the best carriers in the country, and their latest promotion reinforces just how much we may miss them when they're gone. Alltel today announced a "Back to School" promotion that includes 3 months of free service for all new added lines. The offer is limited to the non-Verizon Alltel markets (shown in Red and Yellow on this Map), and you still only need to sign a 1-year agreement.

This past weekend marked another milestone for those Alltel customers who are being absorbed into Verizon Wireless as their accounts are now being serviced exclusively by Verizon. There are several markets yet to be integrated, and a few Alltel customers who live in markets that will be sold to AT&T or ATN now appear to be Verizon Wireless customers, but in reality, a quirk in the conversion process make Alltel phones show "Verizon" on the screen while they will still end up with another company.

Those eligible for these great Alltel deals is a dwindling number, but for those others who watched their great Alltel accounts turn into so-so, or even unappealing Verizon accounts, those who are still Alltel customers may be looked at with some envy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ATN Update

The Atlantic Tele-Network story is a big deal to us because when the deal is complete they will be the 8th largest cellular carrier in the US. And once they take over the divested Alltel properties, they have the potential of adding thousands of additional customers in their existing Commnet Wireless markets.

What caused our interest most recently is ATN president Michael Prior's latest press release from last Tuesday. "ATN is decidedly not a national carrier and will not be replicating their one size fits all approach. Rather, the plans and differentiated service offerings currently enjoyed by these customers will stay in place." This strongly hints that they intend to keep some or all of Alltel's existing plans.

From their 2007 annual report, "The large carriers are focused on adding subscribers and services and we can enhance the subscriber experience by providing coverage in unexpected areas..." How many of us have been pleasantly surprised to find cellular coverage where we didn't expect it? Here's a company that seeks out these locations and install cell sites there! Gotta love that.

Like a number of vocal Alltel users, we're surprised US Cellular didn't pick up these divested Alltel properties. Now that we are looking at what looks like a completely new cellular provider, we may be getting something even better: competition! What a concept.