Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Using GSM as Your Backup Phone

With the potential of some of us getting a new phone around the holidays, some will also be looking at our older phones as a backup, often tossed in the glove compartment of the car. For that 2nd phone we have listed a number of choices that have a very cheap yearly cost, some of which are GSM models. These include T-Mobile Prepaid, 7-Eleven Speak Out (GSM version) and AT&T GoPhone. However, we tripped over an important 'gotcha' for using GSM phones for a backup.

If for some reason you don't keep the phone activated through at least the cheapest service available, the "SIM" in the phone eventually "dies". It cannot be used after a certain period of inactivity. This can be from 2 to 12 months after the minutes expire. Fortunately, all of the wireless companies will mail you a new SIM, but this doesn't help if you need your backup today. I dug out an older GSM phone to activate for my son who needed it for just a couple days, only to find that I could not add minutes to it because it was too long since the SIM was last used. I did activate an old Verizon phone with Page Plus almost immediately, which saved the day, but not as cheaply as I had hoped.

So if you're not just moving your SIM from your old GSM phone to a new one this holiday, and want the old one for a backup, don't forget to keep it activated. There are several cheap GSM alternatives, listed above, or on our Switch to Prepaid page.

Friday, December 18, 2009

T-Mobile Gets 3G Credit

Getting lost in the Verizon vs. AT&T 3G battle is how much 3G is available with the next 2 largest cellular carriers. Sprint has done a great job in increasing their broadband speeds with both "3G" and "4G" credits...even more than AT&T. But T-Mobile has a good horse in this race as well, and maybe with some advantages.

T-Mobile got a slower start in rolling out 3G, but they have expanded to the point where they already cover a large percentage of the US population, even though their map doesn't show as much color as the other carriers. T-Mobile had somewhat less capacity available to expand their broadband services, but with the purchase of big chunks of AWS spectrum, they are now able to offer all-you-can-eat 3G nationwide, with their new 1700/2100 MHz channels, which are not competing with their voice traffic in the 1900 MHz band. Plus, they're starting to offer the kinds of phones that can take good advantage of the new spectrum.

You may need to drill down in T-Mobile's detailed coverage maps to see just how much 3G they have to offer where most Americans live. And, of course, there's plenty of GSM/EDGE/GPRS coverage out beyond the core. So, don't give up on T-Mobile just because of the maps you see over the reindeer heads. They just may give you more bang for the buck...or reindeer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Erin's iPhone

Erin Burnett is a reporter on CNBC and she has an iPhone. She is one of those AT&T customers who experience network dropouts, presumably in the New York City metro area. Often, she will add a small kicker to a story about AT&T, Apple or the iPhone with a comment like, "Even though you'll get dropped calls..." or "If the service works..." based on her personal experience. This is a bad thing for a journalist to do, but I'm sure we feel her frustration. Viewers should not form their opinion of AT&T based on her experience, but they do.

Yesterday, she appeared on the CNBC segment of Stop Trading with Mad Money's Jim Cramer, and she prefaced their discussion with her discovery that the iPhone troubles may be based with the phone itself and not AT&T. Erin admitted that her iPhone worked perfectly in the 12 countries she had visited recently, contradicting her "aha" moment.

Jim shared that Apple has an excellent track record of fixing bugs, and if the problems are indeed with the iPhone itself, Apple will fix them. Since Erin's phone works just fine in Dubai and Nigeria, I would say it's more likely to be a network problem, but AT&T also fixes their problems. If we just didn't love our iPhones so much.

On a related note, Jim Cramer this week recommended the large cellular tower owners as a great investment. He called the need for more wireless capacity a "tsunami" and the carriers need to keep adding bandwidth on these cell sites or they'll get soaked.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ATN Wireless HQ in Little Rock

The new wireless network of ATN (Atlantic Tele-Network) is beginning to look a lot more like Alltel. ATN is building a new headquarters in Little Rock, AR, even though they will not initially have any service or stores anywhere near the area. ATN is probably taking advantage of some Arkansas support money to keep most of the Alltel jobs in the Little Rock area. The fact that the division's new CEO lives in the area may have some bearing on that decision as well.

This is good news for Arkansas, and it's one more decision completed to get ATN down the road toward a brand new cellular company. The new division is called "Allied Wireless", and the transfer of Alltel assets from Verizon was originally to be made to "Atlantic Wireless". So the name soup still gets stirred around with names like "Commnet Wireless", "Allied", or even "Alltel" as possible monikers for the new company. We're following their progress on the ATN page.

With the new HQ located in Little Rock, they will be able to retain as many Alltel brains as possible. That should be a good thing since Alltel was a great wireless competitor. We still maintain that if you love the old All-tel, you should love the new All-ied Wireless.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

AT&T's Boss Admits Shortcomings

The head AT&T Wireless muckety-muck, Ralph de la Vega, admitted their network needs help, mostly in NYC and San Francisco. Yes, the iPhone has set expectations higher than they planned, but there have been other contributing factors.

In the realm of no-good-deed-goes-unpunished, AT&T gets credit for improving their network by adding 3G service to their 850 MHz cell channels. That enabled a whole new batch of customers to use their iPhones deep within buildings, compounding AT&T's capacity problems. Of course, the expanded service is a good thing, but they just keep feeding us more chocolate and we keep asking for more. de la Vega says the day is coming when the networks will need to limit downloads. After all, only 3% of AT&T's wireless users are consuming 40% of the bandwidth. What a bunch of hogs. I bet they'll still give them some more chocolate!

Monday, December 7, 2009

GoPhone Goes Cheap to Mexico

Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader, we discovered that AT&T GoPhone now roams in Mexico for just .25 per minute! We couldn't believe it, and neither could our connections at AT&T until I directed them to the GoPhone Mexico Roaming link. You are not charged more than this rate, even if your GoPhone plan has a daily access fee! This is a huge savings among Mexico roaming charges with US carriers. Verizon and Nextel charge .99/min., T-mobile $1.49/min., and Sprint a whopping $1.69/min. AT&T's regular accounts charge .99/min. roaming fees, but special plans can drop that to .69, .59 or even Free, but only with postpaid accounts.

Until this rate appeared, it was far more economical to send a Text to and from Mexico, but the Text rate with GoPhone is still .50 sent/.20 received. There's nothing more economical than roaming in Mexico with a Nextel phone which charges NOTHING for accessing the Internet while you're south of the border. This would make make exchanging email the best's free. Sprint claims this is "temporary", but that's been the case for almost a year. We've been keeping up with the various plans on the Mountain Wireless Mexico Roaming Page.

It's odd that the AT&T GoPhone will not roam off the AT&T network stateside, but roaming in Mexico? No problemo.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Defending AT&T

After the recent Consumer Reports article placed AT&T at the bottom of their ratings, my first reaction was, "We told you so." I can see why my personal view of AT&T agrees they belong at the bottom of the barrel as I live in the market reviewed as AT&T's worst. But now is the time to give AT&T a little love.

AT&T suffers from having very high expectations primarily from iPhone users. Their phones are real data hogs and that has changed the perception of what once was a good network to one that's lacking . The network didn't get worse, our expectations rose up faster than AT&T expected. It's actually a nice position to be in, but it's a sticky marketing problem.

As AT&T works toward adding capacity and expanding their 3G network, things will slowly get better. It will take some time before users realize it as reputations are harder to repair than cell sites...but repair it they will. There are many other challenges ahead as well. AT&T needs to upgrade its newly-acquired Centennial and Alltel sites to 3G, which may hold up upgrades elsewhere.

It was unwise for AT&T to react to Verizon's 3G "map" campaign, but it was wise to end their legal threats. Now what will their lawyers do? Give 'em some overalls and get them out to the cell sites. There's work to be done.