Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FCC Holds AT&T's Feet to the Fire

Recently AT&T and Centennial Wireless officials (and lawyers) hiked over to the FCC to find out what the holdup was for their acquisition application. On September 25th, the FCC had sent them a rather terse request for information about the transaction. In that request, the FCC asked well over '20 questions' related to the deal. Here is a small sampling of those questions:
  • Please provide AT&T’s equity interest in America Móvil and in Telmex.
  • Please provide additional detail on whether the handsets of Centennial’s customers will function on AT&T’s GSM network in the continental United States immediately following the transaction, as well as at each stage of the transition of integrating the AT&T and Centennial networks.
  • Will Centennial’s customers be required to obtain new handsets or Subscriber Information Module (“SIM”) cards?
  • If Centennial’s customers will require either new handsets or SIM cards, will these be provided either free of charge or at a significantly reduced price?
  • If new handsets will need to be provided, please detail the exchange process including the type of handset offerings and prices for these handsets. Please provide additional detail on AT&T’s integration planning process and its impact on existing Centennial customers in the continental United States.
  • The Rural Cellular Association and Cincinnati Bell propose that the Commission adopt conditions on roaming in this transaction that are similar to the ones that the Commission imposed in the Verizon-Alltel transaction. Please explain whether the roaming conditions in the Verizon-Alltel Order are or are not appropriate for the AT&T/Centennial transaction.
  • Centennial has deployed a 2G GSM network in the continental U.S. and a 3G CDMA network in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For what services does Centennial providing roaming in the continental U.S.?

This is from the first 6 paragraphs of over 19, most of which refer to the relationship of AT&T and Mexico telecoms. AT&T quickly responded to the inquisition last Friday, but their response may not be made public due to "confidentiality."

It looks like the FCC is more concerned about AT&T's relationship to Mexico companies, and network integration in the Caribbean, and less how the transaction will affect US wireless customers or roaming. We're a bit surprised that AT&T didn't make it clear early on if Centennial customers will be able to use their existing phones. But AT&T stated, "the integration planning process is in its preliminary stages, and there are numerous contingencies that could affect any network integration schedule." Does that mean they hadn't thought about it, yet?

AT&T left the door open for protesters like Cincinnati Bell and the Rural Cellular Association to challenge the deal. No wonder the FCC is taking their time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The March of 3G

If you've had a cell phone for several years, you might recall the joy of watching the coverage of your favorite carrier march across the country, slowly giving you that greater range of communications freedom. Now that voice coverage is almost universally expected, we now watch with equal anticipation as 3G coverage moves outward from the cities. It's moving fast enough that the 3G coverage maps can't keep up with it.

AT&T and Verizon add 3G to at least a few sites almost every week, some in remote locations. Verizon has completed more than anyone, however, there are some smaller networks that are already all-3G like Metro PCS, Pioneer Wireless and a few others. AT&T can't keep up with the demand for 3G services, mostly because of the iPhone, but they are working on it. Even T-Mobile adds some new 3G on a regular basis, and oddly enough, their mapmakers seem to be right on schedule with the 3G updates, if not actually preceding the sites upgrades themselves.

Just like the "good ol' days", the more the better...and faster.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Femtocells: Don't Pay Per Month

AT&T recently announced the availability of their version of "femtocell", a cellular repeater that extends coverage into small, indoor areas like a house or an office (one step smaller than a pico-cell). AT&T joins Sprint and Verizon Wireless who offer a similar device, with a similar cost and a similar monthly charge. It's great to see carriers addressing one of the most perplexing problems: indoor coverage. However, there are many other extended coverage solutions already available to us, with no monthly charge!

Prices for some cellular extenders are considerably cheaper than those offered by the carriers. We found one cellular "extender", or repeater, for about $160, for both 850 and 1900 MHz service and aren't limited to one carrier (although few of them work with Nextel (iDEN) phones). Some carriers sell theirs for as much as $250.

If you're considering a femtocell, look at the types not associated with one carrier. You'll make everyone in the office happy, or give yourself a way to finally cut the cord at home.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What's With "The Noise"?

Our group of web sites is the result of work from several individuals and we decided that the name "The View from Mountain Wireless" doesn't include the other contributors in areas like Coverage Maps, PRL's, Cell Sites, Prepaid phones and others. So we agreed to rename this blog with a "neutral" name: "Cellular Noise", with a URL of

I guess that means we need to make more "noise" about wireless subjects, and you can too. Over the next few days we will be converting all the old addresses to the new address, so you might experience some delays while your links are forwarded, and your Reader might also get confused. We'll keep the Feedburner name at MountainWireless. I'm told all the pages should still be connected, but let us know if you suddenly don't find us. Let's make some "Noise!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We Hired a Moose!

A few years ago, the Mountain Wireless web site grew too large for one person and one web site, so we started separate web sites to cover separate topics like Coverage Maps, Cell Sites, PRL's, Cellular Tips & Secrets, and more. Each site had it's own "Discount" page that provided links to various online discounts, to help us defray the costs of maintaining all those web sites. Now all those 'shopping' pages have become too unwieldy for all the different people involved.

So we hired a Moose to do the shopping. Most of our Discount links now forward to Moose Wireless, but the offers remain intact. Visitors get the best deals available online...some of them are pretty small...but they're still the best you can get. The Moose posts more deals than the rest of us could find.

We realize most readers of this blog don't use our shopping pages because you're just too savvy a group to look in just one place. However, since The Moose's only mission is to 'graze' around the internet and find the best online wireless deals, please bookmark the site and give him (her?) the chance to find you the best cellular deals on the web. It's the economic reality we face...there's still no free lunch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

T-Mobile Gives In

For those who didn't follow the thread about T-Mobile and charging for a paper bill, they changed their mind about adding the $1.50 fee after a rather loud consumer response in opposition, and a threat from the New York state Attorney General. This is the right move on T-Mobile's part, but many customers, both current and potential, may not forget this anti-consumer move.

One of the biggest objections was the universal belief that there would be absolutely no amount of saved paper. If anything, it would create even more waste when customers are forced to print their own bills. T-Mobile can make many other moves: offer a discount for online bills, semi-monthly billing, or just plain raise prices, to save money and maybe trees, without raising the ire of otherwise loyal fans. Oh, and guys, maybe wait until the economy gets better before adding even a penny of additional charges...OK?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

T-Mobile Considers Buying Sprint

In a story that appeared in the Sunday Daily Telegraph, European cellular provider Deutsche Telekom, the parent of T-Mobile, is talking to their bankers about the possible purchase of Sprint/Nextel. We were hoping for a savior for Sprint and Nextel riding in on a horse of a different color. This means, if successful, the number 3 and 4 wireless companies in the US will combine to become the number 1 or number 2 carrier, and we lose another competitor.

Of course there will be a few kinks to iron out, like differing (GSM, CDMA, & iDEN) technologies and potential Department of Justice considerations. But it seems to be the next step down the inevitable path of consolidation, and eventual price increases. And the 'what-ifs': will they stay separate, switch to all-GSM or CDMA, and will Nextel be sent packing?

Sprint needs the help since they can't seem to fix their own problems, but it's sad it may come at the expense of yet another major wireless player in the US. Hello Cricket...hello MetroPCS, you guys ready to move up?

Monday, September 14, 2009

T-Mobile Goes Consumer UN-Friendly

After winning awards from JD Power for consumer satisfaction, it seems unusual that T-Mobile would do something that will irritate their customers. T-Mobile has initiated a $1.50 charge for paper bills. That's the bill, not a detailed statement. While other carriers are trying to cut their bills down to a 1-page statement, this move by T-Mobile goes farther. It has created an enormous amount of ill-will for such a small increase in revenue.

T-Mobile customers who are irate about this charge are considering this enough of a change in contract terms that they intent to cancel their T-Mobile service, expecting the Early Termination Fee to be waived. A few state attorneys general agree.

I can think of a number of ways to make this change a lot more consumer-friendly, and T-Mobile may eventually regret this move. But we advise customers who like T-Mobile to consider carefully before jumping ship. This really IS a small change and shouldn't make T-mobile any less of a great value. It may also be a good time to consider switching to T-Mobile Prepaid.

Friday, September 11, 2009

AT&T and Sprint Add More Free Calls

It's almost too little too late. AT&T announced Wednesday they will be adding a "Calling Circle" plan called the "A-List" that allows free calls to 5 numbers of your choice, wireless or landline. The next day Sprint started offering a mobile to mobile plan to any other wireless customer on any US network called "Any Mobile, Anytime".

AT&T comes to the dance rather late as Verizon Wireless announced their Calling Circle plan last spring and T-mobile has had theirs much longer. Coincidentally, both AT&T and Verizon's step into the calling circle world comes on the heels of each company's upcoming acquisition of their respective parts of the Alltel network with the implication of continuing Alltel's successful "My Circle" plan. AT&T does need to offer some carrots to keep their slice of Alltel customers from jumping ship.

Over at Sprint, we give them credit for coming up with something new with an "all-carrier" mobile to mobile feature. However, it requires a minimum $70 Sprint plan, which puts them perilously close to their Unlimited voice plan at $80.

These are small steps for these carriers, but it does keep the competition ball rolling. We already expect Atlantic Tele-Network to be competitive with their part of Alltel. It's cool to see Alltel having such an influence on the industry on their way to the grave.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AT&T Responds

While not admitting their wireless network needs help, yesterday, AT&T released a statement that they are making substantial improvements in several markets. Surprisingly, none of the markets mentioned are those that users mentioned as being surprisingly deficient. Which is it, a veiled attempt at addressing the problem, or making enough noise on this side of the curtain so no one can hear the outcry coming from the other side?

As one reader noted yesterday, AT&T has a lot of good products that are not the iPhone. Look behind the Apple to appreciate what AT&T offers, and that works well!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

AT&T's Dirty Little Secret

It is becoming a little more obvious that AT&T has a problem: the iPhone. Yes, one of AT&T's biggest benefits is also one of their greatest downfalls. While we have known that the iPhone is a real data hog, and that AT&T's 3G network is still not ready for prime time, these problems have recently appeared in mainstream media. Until recently, AT&T claimed they did not have any coverage or access problems. But now with inquiries from local newspapers and TV stations, they are finding it harder to deny the reality: AT&T users, and more specifically, iPhone owners, are suffering from a lot of dropped calls.

Our most recent exposure was reports on local TV about these coverage problems, showing maps of the greatest amount of dropped calls. Finally, AT&T has admitted they are working on the problem. Really troubling is that AT&T reports there will be substantial outages as some cell sites actually go offline "for a day or two" to replace equipment. A day or two?? And customers should expect bad service for several months! Refund? Hah!

The cNet article implies that the fault may not be solely with the network, but as we have hammered for years, AT&T needs to step up their network upgrades. There may be only so much they can do so fast. But they'd better do it, and tell us they're doing it...their dirty little secret isn't much of a secret any longer.

Oh, did we mention that there are dozens of Alltel cell sites that need to be upgraded to GSM?