Monday, November 30, 2009

The Direction of Boost & Virgin

With Sprint's recent purchase of Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and Virgin are now both operated by the same company. Both are popular prepaid services and both offer a lot of value with about a $50 per month price level for Unlimited talk. Sprint needs to do one of 2 things with these separate brands: combine the 2, or, more likely, do something to make them contrast even more than they do now.

Virgin uses the Sprint network only, and Boost uses the Nextel network exclusively, with a few exceptions. In the mind of the typical wireless customer this shouldn't be enough of a difference to choose one over the other. They will each need a unique "hook" and the most obvious hook is price. We wouldn't expect either one to rise above the $50 price level, so what's left? We're guessing one of these services will be designated the "Premium" prepaid, and one will become the "Value" service. The Value sibling may be the one that goes after the $25 to $40 prices being charged by Cricket and Metro PCS.

After paying almost $500 million for the Virgin brand, one would not think Sprint would buy it just to lower the price of the product. So that leads us to believe that there may be a $40 Boost Mobile plan coming. Of course Sprint could also consider Nextel's "Direct Connect" (PTT) feature as the premium in the industry, especially as they end their use of the "Q-Chat" PTT service on the Sprint network.

We'll be watching for both our Unlimited page, and our Prepaid site. Let the price wars roll!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The iPhone Killer

Yesterday, we maintained the iPhone as the king of the Smarts, however, there is reason to consider other choices this week. Many of us have a Black Friday purchase in mind, and wireless phones are no exception. A prudent shopping plan would be to look at the deals on Friday and if you don't get knocked out then, you might try on Cyber Monday. We're betting the iPhone will not have a ridiculously low Black Friday price, but a number of other models will.

We just looked at a couple of deals available this weekend. First, has the Blackberry Storm 9530 on Verizon Wireless for only a penny. Maybe even better is the Blackberry Storm 2 at Wirefly for 99 cents for Friday only, $10 the rest of the weekend. Other offers at Wirefly include free activation on both Verizon and AT&T phones through Monday. T-Mobile is offering $50 off several phones, and I bet you'll find a bunch more, including the online stores on our Discount Page. But we're not trying to sell you a phone.

We're pointing out that no matter how good the iPhone is, a great price on another good phone can re-define what's "Best". And that not all online deals will be coming Cyber Monday, check on Friday, too. Just open your mind to find "The Best."

BTW, some of us who aren't fully employed are more likely to be shopping at Kohl's, hoping for Black Friday prices on socks. The phone may need to wait.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

iPhone Holds On

We have been expecting someone to top the iPhone for some time. We have read lots of reviews and have concluded the iPhone from AT&T is still "it". With so many manufacturers trying to create the "iPhone Killer", we would have expected it to have already happened. We even removed the iPhone from our "The Best " page thinking that it had run its course. It's back.

The Droid came the closest, and even tied the iPhone in some reviewers' opinions, but any tie goes in favor of the iPhone with its App Store with hundreds of thousands of useful and fun features. There are indeed a lot of other cool phones available from AT&T and other carriers worthy of our admiration, and there are, indeed, a few reasons to shy away from the iPhone. One of those lowlights is the AT&T network. They really don't have a bad network, they are just victims of the iPhone's success and are trying hard to catch up. In some places, some people have no idea what we're talking's all good. But there are others who are furious that the network isn't as good as their phone.

As AT&T expands with their purchases of Centennial and Alltel Wireless, there are thousands of people who are drooling to get their hands on their own iPhone, and many will be able to jump in with new 3G AT&T coverage. It can't come soon enough.

Tomorrow, we found a reason to overlook the iPhone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Verizon 2, AT&T 0

The only story of note this week is the reaction to the ad campaign showing Verizon's 3G coverage vs. AT&T's. AT&T took exception to how their network was portrayed, so they ask the courts to intervene. The courts didn't agree and allowed the Verizon campaign to continue. As a result, AT&T responded with an announcement on their web site claiming their data network is really better. Better? Yes! AT&T claims to have the"fastest" 3G network in the US. That may be true, but it just doesn't cover as much real estate as Verizon's.

But it doesn't end there. Sprint continues to roll out their 4G coverage in a handful of markets which is faster than anybody's 3G network. Oh, and AT&T also proudly announced Tuesday they now serve the Bay Area with 3G coverage. But AT&T has the iPhone! Who cares about 3G?

Friday, November 13, 2009

T-Mobile Drops MyFavs, & Everything Else?

We are big-time online shoppers. We shop all the carrier's web sites to see what kind of experience you will have. Looking at T-Mobile's web site, it's obvious MyFavs is gone, but we can't see any other of their previous plans...only their newest Unlimited offerings ("Even More"). Maybe that's all they sell now. That means their lowest price plan is $50...if you're shopping online. A phone call to T-Mobile sales, (with a 5-minute wait) reveals, yes, they do have other plans, starting as low as $30.

I would hope a carrier's web site would show all products, but in T-Mobile's case, we can't find them. You might. We have taken a number of smaller carriers to task about how uninformative their web presence is, or even worse, that the site just doesn't work. Syringa Wireless of Idaho still has the worst-operating web site because some web designer tried to be way too cute. Revol Wireless went from worst to very good, probably after someone in management actually tried to use the site. And then there are the sites that use silly font colors that are totally unreadable.

But we're into the web, it's what we do. A carrier doesn't need their web site to discourage business, the Marketing department can do that, like when they drop desirable plans. Even our own Discount shopping page needs to go through the carriers' own sites, but at least you enter with a specific goal. Remember the good old days when they just raised prices? Now it's who has the best smoke & mirrors. Please stop blowing smoke up my computer, please.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do Well and Put Yourself Out of a Job

This week Sprint announced layoffs of another 2,000 to 2,500 employees. On the surface you'd think Sprint management was responding to the overall loss of customers from the last quarter or the general drop in the economy. But no. Sprint claims that customer service agents have done such a good job, they don't need as many customer service agents.

  • "Sprint has seen a notable reduction in calls per subscriber to customer care and increased customer satisfaction resulting from customer service improvements for seven sequential quarters. In this period, the company has been able to discontinue the use of 27 call centers as call volume has decreased in the wake of service improvements."
Ah yes, no good deed goes unpunished.

Sprint still has a good network and we salute all the Sprint people who have made being a Sprint customer a better experience. Now that Sprint is only losing thousands of customers each quarter, they don't need you any've done your job too well.

Give me a break.

Monday, November 9, 2009

AT&T Gets Centennial OK

The FCC and DOJ have approved the acquisition of Centennial Wireless by AT&T. The requirements include a little good news for roamers. From AT&T's press release:
  • "AT&T will honor existing roaming agreements with other carriers for the life of the contract — or, for carriers with fewer than 10 million subscribers, will maintain the roaming agreement for at least four years or the full term of the agreement with Centennial, whichever is longer."

The FCC also keeps Centennial's CDMA roaming in Puerto Rico available for 18 months:

  • "We condition our approval of this transaction on AT&T’s commitment to operate and maintain a CDMA network in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for 18 months after the Merger Closing Date." "We find that a period of eighteen months will allow carriers using Centennial’s CDMA network sufficient time to implement alternatives."

The CDMA carrier that roam on Centennial in Puerto Rico is mostly Sprint.

It appears everybody got something. What was surprising was how small Centennial's GSM roaming business is. What seemed like a big concern to some users, turns out to be of little concern to the FCC. Then there's the handful of areas where AT&T and Verizon will exchange customers and networks, requiring some changes in handsets and coverage. A few hundred thousand users will just need to grin and bear it. One upside is that AT&T will upgrade the entire Centennial network to 3G before the transition is complete. And, apparently, before other parts of the AT&T network get upgrades as well.

As a side note, we still lament the loss of any wireless carrier. Centennial did a good job but got out of the business mostly because AT&T's offer was more attractive than continuing to run the network. We all need to grin and bear that reality.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

T-Mobile Outage: No Big Deal

T-Mobile users have had a few headaches recently, but it was just their turn. Outages need to be expected even with wirelines. The variable is the average downtime per service. As part of our study about replacing the home land line, we found wirelines to be the most reliable, but cellular came in at a surprisingly close second place.

In my own home, we have never experienced a wireless outage, but we did have a 24-hour outage on the land line which includes the DSL connection. Phones connected through cable TV go out several times a year, either at the neighborhood level, or with their switching equipment.

Earlier in this decade, we reported difficulties with cellular companies providing enough trunks for outgoing calls, but those reports have become rare. Our difficulties of making calls then with both Sprint and Verizon Wireless were no less frustrating, but look at the percentages...they're very low. Like we found for TheUnWiredHome, it's always smart to have a backup, like a phone with a different wireless carrier. You have one in your glove box don't you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Go 4G?

Even though though customers are leaking out of the Sprint bucket, they are touting their new 4G coverage in some new markets, which gives them the speedier coverage in parts of Dallas, Chicago and North Carolina. To use their new 4G coverage, you need their 3G/4G air card. But how much difference does it make? Sprint released the following comparison:

It looks like roughly 3 to 5 times faster service than what we enjoy with 3G, although they claim "Up to 10x faster." And how many of us actually experience the top download speeds claimed at 3G? We don't think it's enough to save Sprint, but each improvement does make our broadband life a little better.

Sprint provides a great broadband product and they get credit for improving their network. We still think Sprint needs an image overhaul, which could be a whole lot cheaper than all that equipment.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Do We Tweet?

I thought it would be good to mention that if you want a really inside look at what's going on in the wireless world we are watching, you should follow us on Twitter. That's where we post those really small details that aren't worth mentioning in a Blog. An example is that Syringa Wireless in Idaho bought the ClearTalk network in that state. It's not a big story, but it's a change we made to the Idaho Cellular Carrier Reviews page.

Also, when we created the Kentucky Reviews, it required us to re-review some of the local carriers and found that one carrier, Revol Wireless, has expanded into both Kentucky and New York. It's another not-so-big big story, but it's the sort of info that we deal with every day, and it's certain worthy of a Tweet...but not much more.

Follow us, and we promise not to Tweet you more than once or twice a day. 'Nuff said?