Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Overlook the Small Guys

As part of our monthly housekeeping, I deleted one of our Cellular Secret Tips, the trick that if you can't get the wireless carrier you want at home, sign up at work where there is local coverage. With so much wireless consolidation, the notion seemed outdated. I just happened to ask a few of our wireless neighbors about the carrier they use and found that they liked the one they have at home and don't get at work.

In this case, it happened to be from Viaero Wireless, which is available in and beyond the suburbs of Denver. These users love Viaero, and their phones work just fine when they roam across other parts of the Metro area. Instead of listing this as a new "Tip", I want to reiterate here how smart it is for you to include these small, local wireless carriers among those considered for your next phone. Some of these carriers (including Viaero) will pay your Early Termination Fee to make the change. In most cases, the smaller carriers have superior customer service and are far more willing to 'bend' the rules to keep you happy.

Sadly, there aren't too many of these carriers located near larger population areas, however, make sure you don't overlook one near you. We list them among our Reviews. With Verizon and AT&T now appearing in new markets, you might be tempted to jump and join the big players and, in some cases, that's OK. But if you live in Dayton, remember Cincinnati Bell, or in Wichita Falls, Cellular One. Tip: they may be the best game in town.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Tis the Season to Buy a Phone

This is a good season to be buying a new wireless phone, mostly for yourself. Obligating somebody else to a new 2-year agreement is not my idea of a good gift, but it's an OK thing to do to yourself. There are exceptions if you can just switch SIM's on somebody. But the contract can't be overlooked. Of course, this also could be the year you choose to pay for your wireless by the minute instead of by the month.

The days after Christmas are a fine time to get a little something cellular. The holiday deals are still available and you can guage your self-gratification on what you already did or did not get as a gift. As we have advised in the past, don't over-analyze your choice, and try not to pay for more than you need. After all, you'll probably be replacing it in the next 2 years, more or less.

Let me add a shameless promotion for our own wireless discount site, where there several online specials still going on for the holidays. Our guys want as much business on the books before the end of the year as possible...even if you want prepaid. You still have a chance to make it a real happy holiday, unless someone has taken on a 2-year contract for you. We wish you best.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Ways to Cut the Cord

Now that Verizon Wireless has launched 4G broadband, the options for those of us who would rather not be tied to wired communications have increased. While maintaining The Unwired Home web site we give much coverage to the fact that users who are accustomed to fast Internet connections often need to keep that copper, fiber or cable connected. Now that 4G wireless is becoming more widely available, that's becoming less so.

With speeds ranging from 3Mb to a lot more, available from a cellular modem, who needs wires? Hopefully, coming soon will be those cellular "hot spots" with one connection to cellular enabling several others to connect by wi-fi. Imagine a wireless modem on your laptop running your games, your TV and even, gasp, your phone!

These aren't future hopes, it's available today. Several carriers are serving several markets so we already have some competition. The carriers consider themselves serving a 'mobile' community. The prospects are equally useful at home...which is also becoming more mobile.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Verizon's Big Week

Verizon topped this week's news. The introduction of their 4G network in 38 markets and 68 airports was sorta big, but with no handsets and only one 4G modem available, users will adopt slowly. More newsworthy for users like us is Verizon's new rates on Prepaid. We noted that AT&T's new $2 per day rate for GoPhone was a potential game changer and it may have contributed to a big drop in Verizon's prepaid numbers. This week Verizon dropped their pay-per-day rate to $1.99, a whole penny less than AT&T.

Verizon also attached some strings. They increased the accompanying Text rate from .01 to .02, that's a 100% increase. They also added restrictions on the handsets available for Prepaid, primarily to keep postpaid customers from switching. We're not sure if that will affect Verizon users who choose to switch to Page Plus.

Prepaid was once the stronghold of the credit-challenged among wireless users. The trend now is for cellular in the US to be more like that of other countries: pay-as-you-go. It's great to see competition in the Prepaid arena. Even US Cellular introduced 3 new Prepaid plans this week. Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS have been trying to increase their base rates from the $35 to $45 zone but may feel too much pressure from the big players. It may be enough pressure to force those two together.

If nothing else, the increase in the number of prepaid offerings gives consumers confidence to switch to prepaid. Savings can be substantial, as Prepaid moves more toward the mainstream.

Also, Page Plus announced their $80 refill is now valid for a full year. More objections to Prepaid fall by the wayside.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is Sprint Worth Twice as Much?

I was updating our Unlimited Wireless Plans Page recently and it occurred to me there was a big difference between the top and bottom priced Unlimited wireless plans. Under the minimum criteria we set for the plans on that page, Sprint just happens to be the most expensive at $100. That's what you pay to get Unlimited Calls and Text to any US phone number. Cricket, MetroPCS and several others are less than half that.

Admittedly, you can pay a little more or less here and there and the numbers aren't quite double, but it certainly has me wondering if the Big 4 are really worth that much more. Now that most under-$50 wireless plans include nearly nationwide roaming, I'm trying to find justification for the extra cost. I don't mean to pick on Sprint, their $70 Unlimited everything-except-calls-to-landlines is a good deal. I'll also add that there aren't really that many of us who can truly benefit from Unlimited service, even data.

As Verizon Wireless kicks off their new 4G network this weekend, you'd think they would make those wide open airwaves available on an Unlimited basis to those brave pioneers who sign up first, and restrict the rest of us later, but they're not. They must remember the first days of AT&T's GSM network.

Over in the low rent part of town, Cricket and MetroPCS keep humming away, happily offering Unlimited everything, most of it in 3G, and some in 4G, mostly for much lower prices. I'm gonna keep asking, "it the more expensive signal worth it?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Alltel to AT&T's Free Phones

The first wave of ex-Alltel customers who are being transferred to the new AT&T GSM network are now having their say. Even though they're not part of the initial transition, Alltel users in that hotbed of wireless concern, South Dakota, are starting to worry. Some customers have gone as far as contacting the state and federal utilities commissions who direct them back to AT&T.

When it was initially announced that certain Alltel customers will not be transferred to Verizon Wireless, a number of Alltel users either thought things might get better with AT&T, or at least change less, and they'll stay put. A few others abandoned ship and jumped to another carrier as soon as possible. Now parts of the former group is having 2nd thoughts. The Free phones AT&T is offering them are lacking. Can you imagine losing Bluetooth and Voice Dialing? There's also the change of coverage issue that is still looming. Admittedly, there's also a bunch of customers who just don't care...yet.

As we noted here, the free phones AT&T is offering aren't what former Alltel customers expected (did they think they'd get a free iPhone?) Now it looks like the Free phones being offered by Verizon are far more tantalizing. It's OK to rethink your strategy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexico Roaming Advice from the Field

Headed to Mexico for the holidays? Reader Chris from Chicago shares his experience:

I read your Mexico Roaming Tips with interest as I prepared to travel to Mexico for two weeks. In lieu of using our family plan with AT&T for calls from and within Mexico, I followed your advice and purchased an AT&T GoPhone SIM card prior to leaving. The card arrived and within minutes our new Go Phone number was activated on our unlocked Treo from years ago.

Both of our cell phones were Forwarded to the GoPhone and we used the voice mail system associated with our Google Voice account to transcribe and email us our voicemail messages, which allowed us to check our voicemail at no charge via computer and determine which messages required immediate attention.

Just having the cost certainty of the pre-paid card was worth the effort. I won't have to wait a month or two for an extra $100+ to be lumped onto our monthly billing from AT&T. This was my first practical use of Google Voice. I tried to use Google Chat to place a call, but upon my return to the states learned that it is only
available from within the US at this time. Lots was learned during our two weeks there, but your article got us moving in the right direction!

The AT&T GoPhone still roams in Mexico at only .25/minute and is a good choice whether your home wireless phone is with AT&T or not.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More AT&T in More Places

Last Sunday AT&T Wireless transferred its recently-acquired Alltel customers to the new AT&T GSM network in Alabama, California, Nevada and Virginia. This means free GSM phones for Alltel customers, but probably not the model you'd hope for. The good news is that AT&T claims you can keep your Alltel plan for as long as you want. The bad news is you need to get your new GSM phone as soon as possible. Don't try to hold on to your Alltel CDMA phone until the bitter end.

We have received no reports from the field about how well the ex-Alltel now AT&T GSM network is performing. The Internet is full of rants about how bad the old GSM network operated and fears that AT&T will be slow to upgrade it. We're not down on the old Alltel GSM network, however, our experience was that it was not up to par compared to their CDMA operations. AT&T has promised full 3G service on its acquired properties, even sooner than its older network.

AT&T also announced they have taken over the Cellular One-San Luis Obisbo network in California. This is a small but valuable improvement for AT&T since they already had a network presence in the area, but a big improvement for Cellular One customers who now can access all of AT&T features across the country. The western half of the country was a challenge for AT&T coverage. That is changing, and that is good.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cox Wireless Arrives - But Not Really

Sometimes we feel just a little clairvoyant. Earlier this week we decided that Cox Wireless needed to be removed from our Mountain Wireless Reviews. They had announced they would be active last March, so after this month's audit of network Reviews we decided it wasn't going to happen. Then, today it did happen, but Cox Wireless didn't arrive as we expected.

Cox has decided to initiate service as an MVNO, instead. While they do have their own AWS and 700 MHz spectrum and equipment to run it, for now they have decided to use only the PCS network supplied by Sprint. Cox plans to eventually offer service on their own spectrum, then use Sprint only for out-of-market roaming, but they aren't saying when. They are offering their own phones and support.

So, our removal of Cox Wireless from our Review pages was the correct move. Instead, they now appear on our MVNO page. Cox can now offer wireless phone service as part of a communications bundle, but they could have done it like this for years. Until they can offer a unique product, they're just a minor player, and only in 3 markets. Do we smell the fumes of hopes of a buyout, or a mid-field adjustment toward Broadband service instead of old-school Voice and Text?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Unlimited for Everybody Else

The rise of Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS into the cellular Top 10 was based on a unique offering of "Unlimited" wireless service at a reasonable price. The top 4 carriers now offer their own flavor of Unlimited services, but they haven't matched the price. Rural areas of the US have not yet enjoyed the availability of a competitively-priced Unlimited service, until now.

In several areas of the country some very small carriers are offering low-priced Unlimited service that is perfect for replacing a home phone, supplying your kids with lots of talk time, or businesses with enough minutes to talk to customers. Most of the larger small carriers charge as much as the Top 4, with some limiting that coverage to their own service area. But there is a handful of small carriers that offer Unlimited service in the $10 to $40 range that provide a good alternative to the more expensive carriers.

We talked to Wayne Gibson, Vice President of Distribution for Commnet Wireless about their new Unlimited network, Choice Wireless. Choice is unfolding fixed-price service across the US, now serving rural parts of Nevada and New Mexico as well as the US Virgin Islands. Their focus is to offer something that is otherwise unavailable in these non-metro areas. Mr. Gibson noted that among the differences between Choice and competing MVNO's is that networks like Choice operate mostly on their own network and can control the quality for the user and fix problems at the neighborhood level.

They often add some roaming minutes for occasional travel into nearby cities. This contrasts with Unlimited offerings from slightly larger carriers like Viaero Wireless and Cincinnati Bell that only offer "National" unlimited plans at the same price level as the largest carriers. The smaller companies can appeal to local families who don't stray far from home very often, but still get service when they do.

Like the Alltel of old, we envy those residents who have a local network that can offer a product and service that is as familiar as your local pharmacist. Make sure you include them in your search for affordable wireless service. The opportunities are...Unlimited.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Verizon Turns Off the Towers

Verizon Wireless customers in Nebraska are starting to suffer from dropped calls. In most cases this results from Verizon actually turning off unneeded cell sites as a result of the Alltel acquisition last year. This has resulted in a number of customers losing service. We knew this was coming, and it's the reality that Rapid City, SD residents feared as reported here yesterday.

In the Alltel takeover, Verizon acquired 40% more sites in Nebraska, and I would have expected them to switch many of those off. Somebody's gonna lose service. Not all the service will be as a result of losing towers, one resident experienced degraded service due to interference from too many towers! Now there's a problem we like to have.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The View Changes in the Snow

A newspaper in Rapid City, SD has published several articles over the past few months about the joys of AT&T coming to South Dakota. They celebrated the coming of the iPhone and noted that signs of AT&T's presence were "popping up all over". Now that snow season is coming, they are a bit more uncertain. The fear is that once the Alltel network is no longer available to Verizon customers, coverage won't be like what Rapid Cit-izens have come to enjoy. The implication is that with AT&T (or maybe even Verizon), you may get stuck in the snow without a lifeline.

South Dakota residents have become spoiled with the excellent coverage afforded by the availability of the Verizon network to Alltel customers, and vice versa. Now that the excitement of the iPhone has moderated, any perception of a reduction in coverage is viewed as step back to the Dark Ages.

In some markets, Verizon Wireless kept the superior Alltel network and sold off their own inferior cell sites. In this case, Verizon's SD network is just fine, thank you. AT&T is also inheriting a great Alltel network. But once you've been to the all-you-can-eat cell site buffet, it's hard to return to the a la cart menu at the same price...even with a cute, new iPhone in your hand.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

3G on Mount Everest

You would think it would be the most challenging environment on the planet, and it is. But the highest peak in the world now has 3G cellular service. The new coverage is supplied by the major wireless supplier in Nepal, Ncell, with 8 cell sites up to at least 17,000 feet in altitude. I used the Ncell network last year and I was surprised at the coverage available and how roamer-friendly the network was.

Cellular is indeed universal and there are thousands of 'off the beaten path' locations with surprisingly good cellular service. This brings to mind the coverage surprises we have found over the years. Often we give credit to Commnet Wireless for serving the less-populated places in the US and even Sprint has popped up where we didn't expect it (I still swear some of those locations have service because a Sprint executive has a house or vacation home in the area). Now we can roam a lot farther from home.

We also give Ncell credit for serving Mt. Everest with 3G. With hundreds of people sending "Guess where I am?" pictures from the Top of the World, there's plenty of market to be served. Making this announcement at the end of the climbing season makes us wonder, what will the network be used for in the next 6 months? Hopefully, the yak-herders will get an off-peak rate so they can keep track of their favorite soccer

Friday, October 29, 2010

US Cellular Covers Bill Shock

We recently noted that US Cellular had drifted up to the top of our Ratings, in part, due to their customer-friendly attitude. They have actually taken another friendly step by actually addressing "Bill Shock", which is a current focus of the FCC.

US Cellular promises your overages won't go beyond a certain point, tied to their previous features of their "Belief Project." We applaud their moves as we have celebrated their ongoing upgrades to an almost all-3G network. Much like we cited Alltel a few years ago, many of us should wish we had US Cellular available in our neighborhood. While they aren't one of the favored "small" carriers we crowed about recently, they certainly have tried to distance themselves from the "Too big to care" players.

Our biggest fear is that we put US Cellular at the top of the ratings and extol their virtues here in The Noise, only to have them gobbled up by another wireless company. That happened to Alltel, however, US Cellular is controlled by "private" owners who want to maintain their membership in the wireless carrier club. Boy, should we be glad they do, whether we live in their neighborhood or not. Yes, we share "The Belief".

Monday, October 25, 2010

Smaller is Better

A few days ago we supported the notion that choosing a smaller phone was still a worthy pursuit. Today, we are convinced that the smaller carriers have even more advantages. Most people are surprised to find the broad phone selection and competitive pricing available from the smaller carriers, some serving less than a single state. It is so refreshing to talk to these companies on the phone because the person at the other end of the line usually gives you far more attention than those working in far-away call centers.

When you call the major carriers, you could be talking to someone thousands of miles away. With the small guys, you could easily be talking to a neighbor. Oh yes, a few of these smaller carriers also contract out their services, but when their service area is so limited, you are far more valuable to them than you are to the big companies.

Our closest example is Viaero Wireless. Companies like these are so involved with the local market, you're shooting yourself in the foot by not using them as your main carrier. Just down the road in Texas, there is a handful of local carriers that are more than willing and able to compete for your business. One of our favorites there, Cellular One of Texoma, has the right mix of plans, phones and customer service that makes those of us in larger cities envy what you can get down along the Red River.

Go ahead and use a GoPhone for your glove box phone, but we're still beating the drum for the smaller carriers. Include them among your choices, if you're lucky enough to have one. Some of us can only dream of a world with better carriers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

AT&T Signup Secrets

If you have been considering switching to AT&T, we noticed they have offered discount promotions on a predictable basis. At least one weekend a month, and sometimes more, for the last 6 months or so, AT&T has been offering new accounts both Free overnight shipping and Free activation. This amounts to savings of at least $50 and sometimes more. A "weekend" usually means Friday through Monday.

Also, they have been promoting refurbished iPhones as low as $79. The iPhone supply varies from week to week, so you need to check the inventory and the promotions to make sure they're both available at the same time. Of course, there are lots of other good phones to choose from.

These deals have been available from both AT&T directly, or from AT&T retailers like our own Moose Wireless. Of course, these deals can evaporate at any time, and AT&T and the retailers don't always offer the same deal at the same time. We're just hoping we're giving you a heads up instead of giving them a reason to give up.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's OK to Be Small

Our self-affirmation thought of the day: It's OK to be's OK to be small. How many times have you looked at someone's iPhone, Blackberry or other smartphone, then at your little flip phone and feel a tinge of envy? I know I have. However, those of us with smaller phones are still within the majority. The entire market for smartphones is still only about 25%.

Let's face it, your smaller phone is probably just as capable at Text and Data usage, it just has fewer keys ( I have several Apps on mine). I know most of us involved at the Cellular Noise have held on to smaller, non-smartphones mainly because we don't want to start paying the increased monthly charge that comes with them. The bigger consideration is we have been wanting smaller phones with each model upgrade, and the availability of smartphones shouldn't change that desire.

We're not anti-smartphone, we're just letting you know it OK to be small...we're in the majority. I have actually been told by friends how they wished they could carry a phone as small as mine, but are forced to the larger form factor either by work requirements or a 2-year contract. My next phone should be smaller. BTW, the Juke should have been the next step, but it was too small!

I know things change. It was really hard to accept a phone without some kind of antenna sticking out of it. I also finally started using the Bluetooth capabilities of my phone after 3 years of not even knowing it had it. But a bigger phone? That's a dream I won't give up.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

GoPhone's New Secret

AT&T recently lowered the price for daily access for their GoPhone Plans. Now, at $2 per day for Unlimited Talk & Text only on days used, why would anyone subscribe to their $60 per month plan? If you used your phone every single day of the year, you would indeed pay $10 more per year ($12 more in Leap Years), but if you have a few days when you don't Talk/Text/IM/Message/Check Voice Mail, you're going to save money with the pay per day plan.

I hate to say this, but GoPhone has reached phone plan Nirvana where users have a choice between paying monthly, or just for what they use, at no difference in the rate. It doesn't matter that GoPhone charges slightly more per month than other Prepaid offerings, it's that we now have a choice that doesn't penalize us to choose to pay as we go. This pricing puts pressure on all the other Unlimited Pay-Per-Day plans which were formerly dominated by Cricket.

We also like the new GoPhone "Simple Rate Plan" where AT&T now charges only .10 per minute, which is a 60% price decrease from the old .25 per minute plan. Mexico roaming charges remain at .25 per minute for both plans, which is much cheaper than anyone's rate. What's the world coming to?

As far as we can see, coverage, features and access are exactly the same among GoPhone plans. Will other carriers match the AT&T rates? I hate to say this, but, who cares? If we want to get that rate, we'll get GoPhone.

Monday, October 4, 2010

US Cellular at the Top

A few months ago, we moved US Cellular to the top of our Wireless Carrier Ratings. It wasn't that they did something outstanding at the time, it was more about the slight slip of Alltel from the top position and that US Cellular has a few, unique, customer-friendly policies.

Last week, US Cellular expanded those policies with the customer-unfriendly name, "The Belief Project." The most notable aspect of this "project" is the elimination of the need to renew your 2-year contract after the initial contract period. While US Cellular is the 6th largest carrier in the US, these features may not have the impact that they might have with a larger carrier. We do see it encouraging US Cellular customers to stick around, which looks like their biggest problem. While US Cellular operates an excellent network, they can't seem to generate the excitement of the larger or newer networks.

"The Belief Project" features are definitely a step in the right direction, but it's hard for consumers to wrap their heads around such an undefined idea. Maybe aim for, "No more 2-year contracts", or "Free phones for life". Simple concepts are easier to grasp in our soundbite world. Our soundbite says US Cellular is our #1-rated network. We hope consumers give their 3G network a fair review before they decide to move with the herd to the largest carriers.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sprint Misses Alltel

How bad do we miss the old Alltel? Some of us didn't have them available in our market, but now their absence affects us all. Our recent article about Sprint generated a good quantity of reaction on and off the blog, mostly negative, about Sprint. It seems they are enforcing their roaming limits, much to the concern of customers who had only occasional usage off the Sprint network. The charges were considerable and customer service was unbending. The timing of these new headaches leads us to believe the loss of Alltel as a roaming partner is, or will be soon, a greater financial burden to Sprint. And Sprint's prez implies that's the case.

Speaking at a wireless conference, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse reported that Sprint is looking at CDMA options in the 800 MHz band, using the spectrum now occupied by Nextel. We give credit to RCR Wireless for reporting from the Goldman Sachs Communicopia XIX Conference in New York, where Hesse admitted that Sprint needs less in-market roaming and better building penetration, some of which was provided by roaming with Alltel.

We saw hard days coming for other CDMA carriers with the acquision of most of Alltel by Verizon Wireless, and Sprint is fortunate they have a way out of their predicament. It may be costly to add CDMA to all those iDEN sites, but wasn't that their plan in the first place? Now Sprint has the incentive to do it. The less Sprint depends on Verizon, the more we all long as Sprint doesn't see that they can also get out of this jam by just selling out to Verizon. The thought makes us shudder.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Love to Pay More!

We continue to champion the lowest-cost wireless services, but we can't overcome the desire for data. Upgrading to a data-capable phone, whether you use data or not, has meant a plan price increase from $10 to $50 a month. There are many of us who pay for Texting and Data on a per-use basis, but more often, we're paying for a whole bucket of data. Most carriers "require" certain data plans based on your phone model, and we appear to shrug and pay it.

This addition of data charges has brought a huge improvement to the bottom line of the carriers and there has been no outcry from customers about it. So we all must feel it's worth it, and that these services must actually cost the carriers that much. Gotcha! As we have pointed out many times in the past: they will charge what they can get, not what it costs.

There are still some opportunities to cut your costs, but you need to adjust your 'needs'. You want what you want, but is saving money among your "wants"? In most cases, no. That's why so many of us are now paying $60 and up per month for what was just a year or 2 ago only $40.

We have a great list for How to Cut Wireless Costs, and keep in mind, not all phones cost the same per month, even phones with keyboards. Watch out for the insidious "Free" phone. The carriers know: 'You can pay us now, or you can pay us later', because after all...we want what we want!

Friday, September 17, 2010

AT&T Accelerates the Spin

Earlier this month, AT&T released a bunch of Public Relations blurbs directed at the small markets they picked up as part of the divestiture of Alltel assets by Verizon Wireless. Now, instead of mid-2011, AT&T claims most of these markets will be operating under the AT&T banner as early as late 2010. Since the GSM network AT&T will use was already constructed and operating by Alltel, we're wondering why it's taking even that long.

Since all that's needed is to update AT&T's data base to include the affected zip codes and the billing data coming from the cell sites, we are led to believe AT&T knew they would be able to offer local service in these Alltel markets fairly quickly. Seeing how excited the local media was in these small markets in reacting to the news, you'd think these small towns were getting electricity for the first time. 'Imagine, the iPhone in Helena, Montana!'

Yes, it's the AT&T PR machine playing us like a Stradivarius. And why shouldn't they? Residents in small towns in the western US have every reason to be excited about going Big Time by having AT&T in the neighborhood. Remember, these people aren't losing a carrier, they're just getting a bigger carrier. There are those us of outside those areas still shaking our heads knowing one less carrier reduces overall competition. Would AT&T have introduced "My Circle?" Be careful what you wish for...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not All 4G Is Equal

Here comes 4G wireless. However, not all 4G is created equal. Sprint and their 4G partner Clear Wireless are sneaking across the country with their WIMAX version of broadband access. T-Mobile has started to roll out their “very fast” broadband which qualifies as 4G but they call “HSPA+” and are offering it in several markets.

The “gotcha” with the Sprint and T-Mobile networks is that they’re using the ultra high frequencies in the 2,500 MHz regions of the RF spectrum. Sprint and Clear also use 2,500 for uploads while T-Mobile uses 1,750 MHz. These are frequencies once thought to only be good for warming TV dinners.

There’s nothing wrong with these networks as they aren’t that much beyond the 1,900 MHz spectrum successfully used by PCS networks like Sprint, T-Mobile and others. The clouds on the horizon are being formed by the footsteps of the coming 700-pound gorilla, Verizon Wireless that pieced together a nearly coast to coast set of 700 MHz licenses. At that frequency, a carrier not only can offer broadband with higher power and superior propagation characteristics, they can do it with a lot fewer cell sites.

Fortunately, Verizon is not the only provider with rights to 700 MHz real estate, but they’re the only ones who can offer it nationwide right out of the gate. Sure, there’s nothing to prevent another communications provider with deep pockets piecing together another nationwide network, not anytime soon.

The non-700 MHz providers are trying to pre-empt this big 4G strike by setting up their connections early, and if they dance quickly enough, they may gain some loyalty. After all, data doesn’t need as high quality a connection as voice, but at 4G speeds, the more signal the better. If each provider packages their service and prices it right, we won’t care what frequency they’re using. But oh that 700 MHz signal…it’ll cover us like a big warm, fuzzy blanket.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sprint Guarantees Indoor Reception

Last week in an article published in Wireless Week, it was reported that Sprint is giving away 3G femtocells to Sprint customers to have reception troubles inside buildings. There are a number of us who would like to know what it takes to qualify for one of those free femtocells (micro-sized cell sites that fit inside buildings to increase coverage). Are these being given to complaining homeowners, big-spenders...or Joe Sixpack?

Sprint has been helping customers with indoor coverage issues with both free and paid-for 2G femtocells for some time. The fact that they are actually giving away the new 3G version (as long as you remain a customer) even before you can buy one is quite a big deal. It tells me Sprint is doing all it can to make customers happy...or...trying to polish up their slightly-tarnished reputation by doing a little something in the hopes of getting a lot of credit.

I actually think it's more of the former and less of the latter since they don't harp much about it. Yes, we'd really like to think they really are trying to make being a Sprint customer a special experience.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Texting to the Rescue

There were a couple of cellular outages recently that reinforce the notion that every wireless user should know how to send and receive Text messages. Many of us rely on getting a call at a certain time to get to the next event in out lives, from picking someone up at the store to making a corporate deal across the country. As we recommended in our Cellular Tips & Secrets, not only should you know how to Text someone, you may need to teach other family members how to receive them, too.

In the South Dakota case, Text and Data seemed to work properly, while Voice circuits did not. There is no guarantee this will work in the next emergency, but historically, Text has been able to get the message through when Voice calls fail. Part of the advantage is the 'store and forward' aspect of Text Messaging, similar to email that is delivered eventually, as soon as even the briefest connection is made, like a short burst of usable cellular signal. We also posted a list of Text to email addresses in case you need to Text someone when you are away from your wireless phone.

This year the average number of Texts exceeded the number of Voice calls. I must admit, only one or two of my wireless-carrying family members know how to access a Text, or even what it means when they are notified of one. Teaching Mom how to read a text Message may save you a lot of grief some day. In my wife's case, it opened a whole new avenue of communications, and charges, for her. Remember, baby, no Texting & Driving!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Cell Phone Directory

Some of us have feared it for years, and some of the wireless carriers have tried to keep their customer list private. So how was able to add several million wireless phone numbers to their free online phone directory? Why Facebook, of course.

Did you unwittingly add your wireless number to the national phonebook? Posting it on social media ends any hopes for privacy. spokesman, Jonathan Hosier, said the company obtained the numbers from public sources, like the Internet and social media sites, as well as third-party sources that obtain cell phone numbers through property records and information submitted via contests and subscriptions.

Some of us want to be listed, but the rest of us don't want to foot the bill for a whole new round of telemarketing calls. This is one more reason to keep that wireline at need a phone you can ignore.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Verizon Testing Cheaper Plans

I guess we have the weak economy to thank, but Verizon Wireless has been experimenting with cheaper plans in different areas of the country. In Los Angeles and San Diego, Verizon is test marketing a $99 all-inclusive Unlimited plan similar to Sprint's "Simply Everything." T-Mobile also offers a similar $99 plan that includes Unlimited talk, text and data.

In another part of the country, Verizon Wireless is testing a $50 Unlimited prepaid plan which offers the same service as Straight Talk offers for $45, and limited to the same network. In Texas and Louisiana Verizon is testing Unlimited any mobile plans with calling to any cellular number in the US regardless of service provider. Yes, it's just like Sprint's "Any Mobile, Anytime."

Verizon calls these plans "limited-time promotions" so there's no guarantee they'll go nationwide. If you live in one of these areas you might want to jump in. If you don't, let's hope some of them intensify the rate competition among carriers. However, I don't see much action for those of us who have capped-minute plans. If you want to go cheaper, you may still need to go Prepaid. It's very fashionable this year, ya know.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One More New Carrier

Last week we reported on a handful on new wireless carriers, some of which have been operating for a year or two, and some that are not yet up to speed. We missed one. Another new carrier that is just starting out from the gate is Choice Wireless. Choice is already operational in the US Virgin Islands and they will now be bringing Local Unlimited service to rural areas and small towns of Nevada. They plan to expand to other states as well, with the idea that small-town America also wants the kind of Unlimited Talk and Text experience offered by the likes of Cricket and MetroPCS.

Choice is offering a pay-in-advance Local service that includes coverage in the bigger cities like Reno and Las Vegas with some other US roaming minutes included. They also encourage disenfranchised Verizon Wireless and Alltel users to bring their old CDMA phones to be activated on Choice. They're also including people who qualify for Lifeline service which provides 100 Free minutes a month. This is great for folks who live on a low income and a few too many miles from wired phone lines.

We have posted a Choice Wireless Review and Choice Wireless Coverage Maps.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Less Roaming Means Less Profit

One of the financial and operational objectives in the acquisition of cellular carriers is the reduction in roaming fees one carrier pays to another. On the surface that appears to be a good thing. Earlier this week, US Cellular's stock was downgraded as a result of the acquisition by Verizon Wireless of most of the Alltel properties.

With Verizon now paying fewer roaming fees, US Cellular has taken a hit by collecting fewer fees from Verizon and Alltel. This is great for Verizon, but it's just one more thorn in US Cellular's side that could force them to throw in the towel. We don't want that.

Have you noticed now that Verizon is no longer paying roaming fees to Alltel, US Cellular and others, how much cheaper your Verizon rate plan is? Of course not! The money saved is going to Verizon's bottom line, not yours. Will US Cellular's reduction in roaming income mean they'll charge higher rates? Maybe.

The big picture centers on corporate profits. We don't see any of the savings, but losses may mean bye-bye to a carrier. US Cellular needs to scramble to keep their head above water and what they make from data and prepaid phones may be all that's left between them and an exit from the business. Stockholders are asking US Cellular to sell...but to whom? Not many carriers need them. It's time for the #6 carrier to think creatively. It's what keeps the wolf from the door...or the Cricket.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Look at the New Carriers

We try to be the champion of the smallest wireless carriers in the US, and we are pleased to report several new ones have appeared. These companies are using all the various cellular frequency bands from 850 to 2500 MHz. We have added the following cellular carriers that are, or will be, serving new local areas, to our Wireless Network Reviews:

  • ARCTIC SLOPE TELEPHONE ASSOCIATION CO-OP WIRELESS is a bit expensive, but that may be needed to survive at the northernmost tip of the US around Barrow, Alaska.
  • iSMART MOBILE is a GSM carrier in Bozeman, Montana. They have that Montana pioneer spirit that guided Chinook Wireless through several acquisitions and expansions into other states, but they also have the challenge of securing reasonable GSM roaming in their own state. Build baby, build.
  • MOBILZ is a GSM operator in eastern Oklahoma, a state with a handful of small wireless carriers. Mobilz, and most of the others, are associated with the local telephone co-op.
  • NEP WIRELESS is part of the North-Eastern Pennsylvania Telephone Company and operates a GSM cellular network with reasonably-priced plans.
  • ELEMENT MOBILE will be taking over the Alltel network in central Wisconsin where the license was already owned by Element. They want to make the experience as much like Alltel as possible.

We hope these tiny companies can survive against the big guys. In some areas, small carriers have banded together to share services and we recommend these new carriers do the same. The new Alltel has many of the same challenges and they all will prosper if they focus on being extremely Local. Neighbors helping neighbors is a powerful business model, if they can keep the prices competitive. You've wanted a compact phone, now go for a compact carrier, too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Get Cricket Nationwide

5 months ago we reported that Cricket was able offer service to their own customers across the country with a new roaming agreement with Sprint. Now Leap, the parent company of Cricket, has taken nationwide service another step further. Soon, you will be able to sign up for Cricket service and plans in most US cities.

If you don't have native Cricket service, your Cricket phone will use the Sprint network. This makes Cricket a MVNO of Sprint in those markets, and it makes Cricket truly a "nationwide" service. Cricket has very good broadband capabilities, and using the Sprint network will also provide fairly good broadband coverage in non-Cricket markets.

Many of us were expecting Cricket to merge with MetroPCS which would provide a close to nationwide network. With this move, Cricket says, "Who needs MetroPCS?" Cricket, like AT&T, is now offering capped broadband plans instead of Unlimited, which won't save us any money. They also now offer Blackberry phones and plans, which means Cricket can serve the needs of a lot more customers, and now it's "Nationwide."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New Unlimited Competition

Verizon Wireless is test marketing a new Unlimited plan similar to Sprint's "Any Mobile, Any Time" plan, but Verizon is pricing their plan at only $50. Sprint gets a leg up for their Unlimited plan that includes Unlimited everything except Voice calls and Roaming minutes, which are capped.

We agree with Don Hesse when he states in the Sprint TV ads that nobody just makes Voice calls on their cell phone. Even our Unlimited Talk & Text Plan Page now includes only Voice and Text plans because Text and Image Messages now outnumber Voice calls. Yes, Sprint's Any Mobile plan does seem to fit more users than the other carriers' Unlimited Voice-only plans, but they still have some distinct disadvantages. To get Sprint's Voice, Text and Data plan to any number, you need to pay at least $100, and you're still limited to their own network. Verizon's $50 price point could be a game changer.

Sprint gets credit for moving the market in this direction which takes advantage of the fact that around 25% of all US households are now wireless-only. Sprint was also the pioneer in giving customers free long distance calls.

Now that Verizon is wading into the Any Mobile pool, Sprint may need to get back to the drawing boards. If they're smart, they already have. "Smart" does not describe all of Sprint's moves. We still haven't figured out how they can justify their purchase of Nextel. We do however know that offering a bunch of prepaid options and supporting several MVNO networks has kept Sprint moving, even if not very fast...or down.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Don't Depend on Just 1 Phone

Several friends and contacts have told us they have disconnected their land line. Many of them did it as part of cutting costs. Each of them mentioned how surprisingly high the taxes are on wired phone lines. The next complaint is how expensive even the most basic phone service is from the local telco.

In The Unwired Home, we recommend keeping your land line at the most basic service level, but for some, even that expense is not worth it. The average basic line costs about $20. If people are avoiding that monthly amount, it make me wonder how many of the broadband alternatives that are priced from $9 to $25 are even in consideration. We all have a wireless phone already, so there's no need for anything else, is there?

We believe you should have some kind of backup in a cellular-only home. It could be a $10 per year T-Mobile Prepaid phone, Magic Jack, or even Skype. You are now depending on just one phone. Do you always know where yours is? We also noticed many 'cord-cutters' have relatively old phones. What happens when it breaks, and it will. Murphy's Law says that's when you'll have some kind of personal problem. Don't rely on just one phone. Ask the baby-sitter to bring her battery charger. Murphy lives here, ya know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Straight Talk Adds GSM

For those of us who like the Straight Talk all-you-can-eat wireless service, it now comes in 2 flavors: CDMA and GSM. The CDMA version uses the huge Verizon Wireless network, and coming soon, a GSM version that will use AT&T. According to AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel, AT&T will support Straight Talk which is currently available at Wal-Mart stores or Online. GSM phones have been historically cheaper.

At $45 a month, Straight Talk is one of the leaders in Unlimited cellular service, with a full package of Voice, Text, Data and 411 access. While coverage is much more extensive with the Verizon CDMA version, there are a few areas where there is no Verizon coverage. There is also those of us who would rather use a GSM phone.

For consumers it could be a good deal. This makes Straight Talk more like TracFone, the 'parent' of Straight Talk, where both GSM and CDMA phones are available. The co-owned NET10 only offers GSM phones which mostly, but not exclusively, use the AT&T network. TracFone and NET10 both have more coverage than Straight Talk. Also, NET10 also offers an Unlimited package but at a higher price than Straight Talk. Compare all the Unlimited offers at the Mountain Wireless Unlimited Page. Decisions...decisions.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going Totally Wireless

The Center for Disease Control is the agency tracking the latest data of how many households no longer have a wired phone. Their data is delayed by several months, but even with that dated information, they report over 24% of America's households have no land line. There are a good number of you who would like to 'cut the cord' but don't quite have the courage, or the info necessary to take the plunge.

Take heart. We have a complete "How-To" to go completely wireless, at The Unwired Instead of being an oddity, you'll be part of a fast-growing part of mainstream communications users. For those of us who still want a wired phone line, in some cases, it has become the secondary line for the family. Formerly the home land line was the sacred connection to the family, but now, it's the wireless line that we take personally. Who cares who knows the land line number? We can ignore it...or eliminate it.

If you'd like to be selective about the calls you take on that old wired appliance, unfortunately, the local phone companies charge a high price for Caller ID, which, on top of their overpriced land line, gives us an additional economic incentive to unhook the wire.

BTW, the first communications company that suggested we drop our land line to control costs was the local wireline company! Of course they suggested replacing it with their own bundle of broadband or wireless phone deals. So Hell hasn't frozen over, they're just re-arranging the furniture.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alltel Back Door Voice Mail Numbers

With the acquisition of Alltel by Verizon Wireless, AT&T and ATN, we have been expecting the Alltel Back Door Voice Mail Numbers to be deactivated. Indeed some have, but we can't find a relationship between acquisitions and location.

In some places the access is now using the Verizon Voice Mail platform and others are unidentified. We haven't tried to see if these still-working numbers may now give access to nearby Verizon Wireless numbers. We logged a loss of about a dozen Alltel numbers. Some of the markets still working could be those switching to AT&T, so their future is still clouded.

Many Alltel customers used these numbers with their "My Circle" plan to make free calls to voice mail. We'll assume there are still many changes to come in this area. Fortunately, free calls to voice mail just isn't the big deal it used to be.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Tools to Make Cheaper Calls

As I was driving across the Southwest last week, I saw the signals on my collection of prepaid phones come and go. If I wanted to use a prepaid phone exclusively, which is certainly a possibility, I would want a different prepaid phone active in different locations. By using Google Voice (and similar call-directing services), I could program a different phone to work in different locations, and the incoming caller would still call the same number.

Extending that thought, I could also program a daily schedule that forwards calls to one phone, say, during business hours and another in off-peak hours, and incoming callers won't know the difference. No, I really don't want to carry more than 1 phone, but while traveling along the New Mexico-Texas border, my AT&T GoPhone had absolutely no signal, but T-Mobile prepaid worked just fine. Many Texas rest areas have free wi-fi, so I pulled over and re-programmed my incoming number to forward calls to the T-Mobile phone, and I was back in business. This also helps me on our frequent visits to Mexico.

A simpler option is to just Call Forward calls from your normal phone to the cheaper phone, but the online services can be adjusted even when you don't have a signal from the orginal carrier. Since you're using minutes on the original phone, your advantage is only realized if you have no signal on the main phone, or you would be incurring roaming charges.

Oh, my kid, who doesn't have a wireless phone, used that rest area wi-fi to Text a few messages on his iPod phone needed. Yes, that iPod could be one more tool as well, but I can't get him to stop playing Sonic Hedgehog II long enough to make a call.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wireless Tip That Saved the Day

We take quite a bit of time and effort to research the most helpful Wireless Tips & Tricks. We feel they offer helpful info not available elsewhere. One of those tips saved the day on our most recent road trip. Yes, we forgot our battery chargers!

Tip #9 shares that the most forgotten item in hotels & motels is phone battery charges. Not only did our motel have several to choose from, they offered them to us to keep. We offered to just borrow the charger until our return leg, but they just wanted to clear their shelves.

I realize a new charger might have been acquired at a drug store or Wal-Mart, but I'm sure you know what a hassle it is to find a store and make the exit from the highway in time. Even bigger is the thought of buying yet another charger when you know you have 3 or 4 sitting at home.

Maybe we'll leave this newest charger at a motel to "pay it forward", maybe to you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Giving T-Mobile a Bigger Nod

After several weeks on the road, we have returned with an even greater respect for T-Mobile. Also, we realize how much farther AT&T has to go. Most of our trips are across the Southwest where some carriers still have significant coverage holes.

With more Alltel sites now displaying "Verizon Wireless", we begin to realize just how much Verizon has acquired. It also makes us a bit squeamish knowing that in all those places where T-Mobile phones just show "Roaming" is a GSM signal being supplied from a newly-converted Verizon cell site. At the same time, we notice that T-Mobile seems to preparing for these former Alltel GSM sites to go away. There are lots more new T-Mobile sites along our travels in AZ, NM and TX.

What we don't see are any new AT&T sites. We will assume all of AT&T cell site efforts`are going to converting Alltel sites, and there are still quite a few areas without them. So we adjusted our Reviews to show AT&T suffering from the lack of their own coverage in the West, and continued dependence on roaming partners. T-Mobile roams, too, but a comparison of each carrier's prepaid coverage shows a distinct advantage of T-Mobile's native plus roaming capabilities.

The Alltel sites that will be added to AT&T's inventory over the next year will improve that situation, but there may also be a loss of GSM roaming for both carriers as Verizon Wireless ends GSM coverage at the end of their Alltel GSM roaming agreements. But what if? What if Verizon decides to make GSM roaming available for the foreseeable future? There may also be peace between Middle Eastern countries, dogs & cats, and tastes great/less filling. There's always hope.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alltel's Shrinking Pains

Some carriers suffer from growing pains, but the "new" Alltel has that in reverse. As their own network coverage area shrinks, some customers are getting pushed aside. The first response has been to a group of Alltel customers in southern Illinois who are using Alltel Wireless as their Internet service provider, mostly with a wireless air card plugged into a computer. Alltel claims these customers are using their Internet access too much while roaming. This does not affect users with broadband phones like Blackberry.

Alltel has offered to credit most of the expenses for the equipment involved and allow these customers to escape without an Early Termination Fee. Alltel is even throwing in a few weeks more of service, just to be nice. Surprisingly, some of these people just don't trust Alltel to credit the fees, so they sit and suffer and complain to whoever will listen.

We think Alltel is being more than fair, but we wonder if this is happening in other parts of the country where customers continue to use their Alltel modems wherever they want. Alltel claims these people had ample notification, and we believe them. To find the termination clause in Alltel's terms & conditions, you need to download the .pdf version.

These customers claim there is no other source for high-speed Internet access, but if they are being kicked out for excessive roaming, they should check to see who they have been roaming with and look for service there. Fortunately, for the foreseeable future, all other Alltel roaming is still okie-dokie.

Monday, June 28, 2010

No More Pay-Per-Call

We’ve been roaming again which is why the blog hasn’t been updated. Yes, it’s pretty simple to update these pages from the road, but it’s awfully hard when you’re having that much fun.

The somewhat sad news is that we were unable to find Pay per Call plans any longer in Mexico. I must admit it seemed too good to be true when it first appeared a few years ago. After paying about $1.30US per minute for calls from American phones with Mexican SIM’s installed, to the US from Mexico, it was unbelievable to be able to make a 30-minute call for that much. Then it was 20 minutes, then 15, now it's back to 1.

The calling rate from Mexico was only part of the potential. We thought if it works in Mexico, it could be expanded to prepaid accounts in other countries, like the US. Alas, it is not to be. This also takes away from the desirability of using a Mexico SIM in your unlocked US GSM phone while in Mexico.

We updated our Mexico Roaming Page accordingly and now feel even more strongly in our prepaid AT&T GoPhone at .25 per minute whether in California or Cancun. We just forward incoming calls from our regular number (our other wireless, Google Voice, and/or the home phone), and outgoing calls are no hassle. Oh, Caller ID still works and you end up with usable calling time when you get home. So for those callers who block their number when they call the house, sorry about that. Not gonna answer…not even for 2 bits.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Alltel to AT&T Ups & Downs

By now the FCC approval for AT&T to acquire the remaining "old" Alltel properties is well-known among the wireless community...that is unless you've been standing in line at the Apple store for the last 2 days. I'm not going to re-hash the good & bad points about the deal, but I am going to point out a few details we discovered.

In the FCC approval documents, AT&T stated that they will continue to offer CDMA roaming, " long as AT&T provides CDMA retail or roaming services at that cell site." and "...nothing in this commitment shall be construed to restrict AT&T from terminating CDMA services at any cell site to all CDMA carriers at any time...under its roaming agreement with Verizon Wireless..." Since Verizon is selling the affected Alltel properties because they already have service in the area, and there's no mention of other carriers, it seems if Verizon says, "OK", AT&T can turn off CDMA and leave the other CDMA carriers with only one choice: to roam on Verizon.

Otherwise, there are no real surpises in the final documents. The approval did force us to change Our Reviews for AT&T and Alltel for all 50 states as well as our General Observations for about half of those. Whew! AT&T is already snatching customers from the Alltel web site who enter a Zip Code for the newly-acquired areas.

If you live in one of the areas acquired by ATN, it's Alltel business as usual. However, the "new" Alltel is now down to its fighting weight and no longer has the power of a company with millions of customers. There may be a fewer things, like fewer phones, or fewer stores.

Some of the transition to AT&T GSM can happen rather quickly as most of Alltel's western sites already offer GSM coverage, but it should improve greatly under AT&T. We could also expect Verizon to start disconnecting any Alltel GSM equipment as soon as roaming agreements allow, and AT&T doesn't have coverage in much of those new areas. It could be interesting, if not traumatic, to watch coverage disappear in so many areas so fast. It looks like the customers of Sprint, T-Mobile and a bunch of other carriers, including AT&T, may be in for a few surprises. I would hope it'll be later rather than sooner, some roaming agreements continue for several years.

Does this mean higher roaming charges for these other carriers, and thus higher charges for you and me? AT&T and Verizon Wireless wouldn't let that happen...would they?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Talk for Less

We feel one of our biggest contributions to cellular users is the myriad tips and secrets we have shared about saving money and keeping you from being a victim of the slow creep-up of wireless costs. We have even started entire web sites dedicated to cutting your wireless costs by more than half like So we created another weapon in the war against overpriced wireless, Secrets to Cheaper Wireless.

Check out potentially huge savings ideas that are listed in their order of difficulty. At the top of the list is “Change Your Plan”. Boy that seems awfully simple, right? But we found dozens of colleagues and friends who know they are on the wrong wireless plan and just haven’t got around to changing it. There is also a wealth of other valuable options that could save your wealth.

We're helping you pay only for what you really want. The more selective customers are, the more the wireless carriers will cater to those of us who make it known what we want, instead of just trying to profit from our ignorance. Go ahead, get the advantages. No more excuses!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Learn to Let Go

I have been following the story on Usenet of an unfortunate wireless user in San Francisco who could no longer use his beloved AT&T phone at home since they ended analog service there. He recently took, what he considered, the drastic step of buying an AT&T "micro cell" and placed it in a window of his house, only to find he had traded one set of woes for another.

Over the last few years we have recommended a few third party repeaters and micro cells from the likes of Solid Signal and Tiger Direct, which not only give you a usable signal where you need it, they do it at a reasonable price and not tied to a single carrier. But that's not the story here.

The problem is how long can you hold on to a wireless carrier that just doesn't suit your needs...or your coverage? Why is it so hard for a cellular user in a large urban area to just switch carriers? Most likely, several carriers serve any one given dead spot for another carrier. Is it because of the iPhone? Think of some of our loyal readers who live in places like Montana who can't get the iPhone (yet). Are they trying aluminum foil hats or comfy window their garage? No, they're choosing the best carrier in their area and the best phone they offer, and getting on with their lives.

Spending hundreds on a microcell, and then a monthly fee, just doesn't make sense when there are much cheaper options, including just switching carriers. Yes, even perfectly rational adults are subscribing to, say, Cricket, and not looking back to their "old" carrier, who never covered then with anything other than a nice warm monthly statement.

Let it go...just let it go.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Easier to Get Unlocked

AT&T has been recently forced to unlock their GSM phones at the customer's request 90 days after the phone purchase. Exceptions are the iPhone and for phones under an "exclusivity" agreement which would last no longer than 10 months. Prepaid phones can be unlocked after you provide a receipt for the phone's purchase. We're not trying to use our AT&T phones on other US networks, we're trying to use them internationally by inserting a local SIM. Some phones are easy to unlock, but yours seems to always be the one that isn't.

We compared AT&T's "new" unlocking policy with other GSM carriers. T-Mobile will unlock your phone for you after 40 days with postpaid accounts and 6 months for prepaid. The next largest GSM carrier, Cincinnati Bell Wireless, won't unlock phones under any circumstances. Our favorite GSM carrier, Viaero Wireless, doesn't have a lock on their phones, except for certain Blackberries.

The only reason the courts forced AT&T to provide the unlock codes is that they were accused of being 'misleading' in providing locking information to their customers. We found that AT&T would provide the unlock code after a 2-year contract was completed, or if you could convince them you would be roaming outside the country and would need to insert a local SIM.

It's unfortunate that it takes a court order to make the wireless companies be more consumer-friendly. AT&T needs to learn that some of their customers are lawyers and they should be treated nice or they'll do what lawyers do. For once, that's a good thing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The New Alltel: Serving 22 States!

We have yet to see the other shoe drop. The "New Alltel", the part purchased by ATN, has the potential of soon offering local service in 22 states. They can do this by selling service in their Commnet markets. I put together a Map of Alltel and Commnet Combined Properties.

They have so little coverage in some of those states it wouldn't make economic sense. However, in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah there are lots of Commnet cell sites, and they will most likely add those to their new Alltel holdings in 6 other states. Throw in the Florida Keys and the odd city in Wyoming and you've got a basketful of potential local service areas. Commnet has enough coverage to have offered local service in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, even before acquiring Alltel. Additionally, they are building a 4G broadband wireless network in northeast Arizona.

The holdup is that they are using the Alltel name, and the "Old" Alltel is still operating in most of those Commnet markets. They will eventually be sold to AT&T to satisfy Fed competitive concerns, and then the "New" Alltel can take over. It may be tricky to appeal to customers by saying, "If you liked their Alltel, you'll like our Alltel." But that's why the Marketing people make the big bucks. "Chad is still here, he just moved across the street."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sprint - The New Prepaid King?

With the purchase of Virgin Mobile, Sprint became a bit top heavy on prepaid services. They have now added yet a 4th prepaid service that will be available mostly at Wal-Mart stores named Common Cents Mobile. The "hook", or the gimmick, is that they will Round Down your minute usage. Use 1 minute and 45 seconds and it will round down to 1 minute.

With this newest prepaid product, Sprint has clarified the personality of each of their prepaids. Virgin will be a data-oriented brand for younger users and Boost will focus on voice services, which is a good use of the slower Nextel iDEN network. Oh, the 3rd brand? I'm sure you've heard of Assurance Wireless aiming at low-income customers. So low, they qualify for government supported Lifeline service. Don't expect Assurance to be much of a force until they expand beyond the half-dozen states they currently serve. That leaves Common Cents as a phone for...uh...Wal-Mart shoppers?

If you're considering a switch to prepaid, welcome to one of the fastest-growing groups of wireless users. The easiest switch is to use your current phone with your current provider. Oddly, Sprint is one of the few carriers that won't let you switch to their own prepaid. For users who travel outside the city, there may be better choices. Like Virgin, Common Cents Mobile doesn't support off the Sprint network roaming.

View the top Prepaid options at We said this a few years ago, and it's even more true today. Fear no Prepaid, it's not just for kids any more.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Alltel the Future of Prepaid...and More?

We have been combing the notices from the FCC, ATN, Alltel and others trying to find a few morsels of what's coming from the "new" Alltel, also known as, 'That part of Alltel sold to ATN.' One of the findings is that Alltel's "U" prepaid brand is no where to be found, but now there is an interesting selection of 6 Alltel prepaid plans being offered:

  • Unlimited Talk
  • Unlimited Talk & Text
  • Pay Per Minute
  • Pay Per Day
  • Pay Per Month 200
  • Pay per Month 400

This collection of plans seems to include the features of every prepaid offered by other carriers. With the Pay Per Month plans they can even complete with the best of the no-contract carriers. This is the kind of thinking that has made Alltel stand out among carriers, and why we have long recommended them in markets where they are available. Will this happen with Prepaid?

Could this affect the rest of us? The same management team that created features like "My Circle", and other ideas copied by other carriers, are in place with the Alltel-from-ATN network. So, even though the number of people served by the "new" Alltel is drastically less than the old, this downsized carrier may still be influential in coming up with more creative ideas.

Some customers trying to sign up with Alltel are being forwarded to Verizon Wireless who cannot set up any Alltel services. These callers are being identified by their phone number as living in Verizon markets, and the trick around that is to hide your Caller ID by pressing "*67" before you call Alltel's customer service (800-ALLTEL-1).

Then there's that group of Alltel users who will be absorbed into AT&T. Some are thrilled at the prospect, others, not so much. It gives us this additional level of confusion that keeps us all in the guessing game. Help me, Chad!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Alltel Lives On

As expected, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN) today completed the acquisition of the Alltel properties that were being sold by Verizon Wireless. ATN announced the closing of the purchase and paying $223 Million as the final price. But the big news is they will keep the Alltel name for many years. They also will be able to use the Alltel name in some other markets.

We suspected the final retail name would not be "Allied Wireless" because ATN never reserved the domain name, As a matter of fact, we were offered to buy the Allied Wireless web address. We're going to guess that several of the Commnet Wireless markets will become new "Alltel" markets and will be able to offer local retail services under the Alltel name, making wireless products immediately available in a whole lot more places than the markets in the 6 states involved in today's Verizon Wireless transaction.

We are fairly certain that the Commnet sites will be involved in the new Alltel network, and since Commnet already has good roaming relationships with most other carriers, the new Alltel gets a nice jump out of the gate. Go Chad, go!

Finding Our Pages

From time to time we actually meet face to face with fans of our sites and they often ask what happened to some of our old web pages. During 2008 and 2009 we converted some web pages to whole sites of their own, and added some new developers to watch over the info on those pages. Some of those pages turned out to be big successes, and few others didn't pan out so well.

So, for the last week we have been consolidating not just links to each web site, but links to each individual page. We incorporated that into a new, expanded Site Map, that includes almost all the pages on all our related sites. The only pages that aren't individually linked are the separate state wireless network Reviews (there's 50 of them), and the Archives for this Blog's predecessor (6 years' worth). We thought that would add way too many links to be useful.

We're always trying to come up with new and unique cellular topics, but from time to time we lose those new pages among all the others. We also hate to delete any old pages just because few people read them. After all, they're old friends of ours. You might want to look for some of those old friends, and new ones, at the new Mountain Wireless Site Map.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FCC Approves ATN Takeover of Alltel

I thought I would give everyone a heads up on the FCC's approval, today. ATN will take over the markets that will be spun off from Verizon's purchase of the rest of Alltel. ATN is Atlantic Tele-Network and has named Allied Wireless as the company that Alltel Wireless will evolve into. ATN also owns Commnet Wireless and CC Communications Wireless with a total of nearly 600 cell sites across the US.

You read it here, first!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taking Your Phone Out of the Country

Over the past few weeks we expanded our very popular Mexico Roaming Page to an International Roaming Page. We haven't quite approached George Clooney's frequent flier miles, but we have traveled out of the US enough to know that wireless is almost as universally available in other countries as it is here. Even at the airport in Pokhara, Nepal, west of Kathmandu, is a huge billboard with the picture of a GSM SIM, inviting visitors to buy Nepal cellular service.

On our new Global Roaming page, we try to explain how using your phone overseas is just a little different. We have compiled the experiences of worldwide travelers into a list of global roaming options as well as Tips & Considerations. The majority of us want to know if we can just pack our own cell phone in our carry-on and head abroad. This includes those who want to take a cruise, but can't bear with the idea of leaving the cell phone behind.

For travel around most of the globe, AT&T and T-Mobile phones have, by far, the widest roaming capabilities. Some CDMA carriers will loan you a CDMA/GSM phone as GSM dominates outside the US. Even then, international roaming is not cheap. We found less expensive alternatives but how many hoops are you willing to jump through to find the best rate?

I have traveled from the airport to the hotel many times, with no way to find a local prepaid phone or SIM, until I was able to venture from the hotel, which may be far from any stores. That's where the roaming abilities of your current phone help you at least get through the first few days. We may be talking about dollars per minute roaming fees instead of the pennies we expect at home. There's a whole bunch of considerations: like on a cruise ship, you can either pay the $3 per minute roaming rate (or more), or find a way to connect through wi-fi, which is also not free. Or the fact that a prepaid phone or SIM purchased in India roams more cheaply in surrounding countries than most US phones. The experience can be fun as you deal with foreign businesses at a "locals" level, even in Mexico.

If you're taking a foreign vacation or business trip, we hope to hear from you. Just don't pay too much for the call.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ready for A 6-Band Phone?

As part of our work on International Roaming, we see today's advanced, "quad-band" cellular phone as tomorrow's old school technology. Some of today's networks require a "tri-band" phone just for "normal" US coverage. Cricket uses the third band for additional markets, T-Mobile uses it for much of their 3G coverage. And there's more coming. There are 5 such wireless "bands" on the air today.

Verizon, and others, are working on 700 MHz services, and the FCC is looking for a few more slices of spectrum pie to feed our insatiable need for bandwidth. Fortunately, the manufacturers are keeping up with the RF requirements, but we see clouds on the horizon. Much like the brick wall that prevents the cross-use of GSM and CDMA networks, the need for so many new frequency bands, and phones that serve them, may provide a similar stumbling block.

Sure, technology should be able to come to the rescue, but are we ready to face the need for new equipment every few years? Some Americans replace their phones almost that often, but to be required to do so may reach a resistance level. And we haven't put much thought as to what is happening overseas. India is having a spectrum auction right now that will add to the bowl of band soup.

Besides, a "sex-band" phone (sex = 6) does have a certain ring to it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You Can Roam- Can Your Friends?

A few weeks ago we were making one of our semi-regular visits to Mexico. On this trip we had several friends stay in nearby hotels. But we had a heck of a time hooking up with them because their cell phones don’t work down there.

We all take for granted just making a call to each other’s wireless number to make plans for meeting up when away from home. Hotels have pretty much made their room phones superfluous with their ridiculous fees and surcharges. But that’s the old school way of communicating. Even “older” is our expectation that any messages left at the hotel for us would be saved at the front desk. Now it’s more likely left in your room’s voice mail. What, our room has a phone?

Some of our friends just don't know they must enter "001" or "+1" before their US number. This is just one more of those adventures in Roaming, and it certainly extends to more than just making plans with friends while on the road. We also depend on our wireless devices for our access to email and the Internet.

The latest wave of wi-fi capable phones has also opened new horizons for us. We may be headed back to those old school internet cafes just to make phone calls. Our hotel charges up to $70US per week for wi-fi access. So, we're happy to pay international roaming cellular charges...if it works. Some of our friends’ phones didn’t. Which left them on the beach, alone, snoozing, unbothered. Hmm.

We’re keeping up with roaming developments at the Roaming Zone, Mexico Roaming, and at our Cellularmaps web sites.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cricket Goes Nationwide

Cricket Wireless keeps expanding and now their coverage includes roaming on most of the Sprint network. This new "Nationwide" service includes all their plans, with higher-priced plans offering more features. Prices start at $30 per month and that includes all the Unlimited Talk you want. Talk & Text starts at $40.

Cricket, part of Leap Wireless, has been expanding into many new markets of their own, but the inclusion of roaming on Sprint and a handful of smaller carriers, makes theirs a very useful wireless product. They offer good broadband service within their own coverage and they're a good substitute for the home land line.

Rumors keep flying that Cricket and Metro PCS might combine some day, but if this new roaming deal with Sprint works out, Cricket might not need Metro. Can Metro PCS pair up with a similar roaming partner, or can they also join up with Sprint and level out the merger sandbox?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sprint Gets More 3G Love

Watching all the Verizon Wireless TV commercials, you'd think AT&T was the 2nd place 3G contender, and a distant one at that. The real #2 spot belongs to Sprint, and, at least for the time being, they are a close 2nd. Sprint even has the ability to tout "4G" coverage in a handful of markets. The economy is holding back the top 2 carriers from expanding service any faster, while Sprint has made it a bigger commitment.

When updating our 3G Comparison Map Page, I found that most carriers had made some broadband progress, but not enough for their 3G maps to show it. The exceptions are T-Mobile and US Cellular. It doesn't look like much, but T-Mobile has made great strides, especially considering they are installing equipment for completely different frequency spectrum.

This situation is going to change quickly as the new 700 MHz, 2100 MHz and other spectrum goes online, which is expected to start before the end of this year. Ah yes, the day is coming when even most desktop computers will be connecting to the nearest cellular tower. Sprint, along with the help of Clear Wireless, is aiming at that target right now. Who needs wires?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We Want Your Mexico Experience

With a number of readers heading south of the border during the cold months and for Spring Break, we're looking for your experience using wireless in Mexico. Over the last few years we have tried every Mexican cellular service except Nextel. This year, we have only been using the roaming capabilities of US carriers instead of buying local SIM's and phones. While the challenges we had using Mexico accounts gave us something to write about, plain 'ol roaming has worked without far. And with our AT&T GoPhone, it has been relatively cheap. Expect a full report in a few weeks.

Mexico operators have been making small, but not insignificant changes to their wireless services, which may further reduce the advantage of using local Mexican cellular. The latest reports are shown on our Mexico Roaming Page. We'd like to hear your stories, either here or By Email. ¡Buen viaje!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Searching for Cellular Data

We like to add articles here at least a couple times a week. Our committee of web site operators has been using this time discussing how best to apply a Search function to our web sites. It really bothers us that when web site visitors can't find exactly what they're looking for on a web site, 80% of them just leave. We've used cross links and site maps, but creating a real Search function has been quite a challenge.

After experimenting with different formats, each of us has settled on our own format with results that will, hopefully, give you enough, but not too many, results. Our 'catch-all' Search page is at: Mountain Wireless Search. One of us likes Search boxes on a separate page, another likes it at the bottom of a page, and another likes it right in the Navigation bar. Let the Search begin.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More UN-reaction

Monday, Sprint climbed onto their soap box and crowed "Our Unlimited is better than their Unlimited." A few weeks ago we panned Sprint for bringing a knife to a gun fight by not matching the other carriers' Unlimited Talk to any number at the $69.99 price level. Sprint hung their hat on the "Any Mobile Anytime" and stood their ground. They have a point.

Now that we have looked at the big players' Unlimited plans, we have seen way too many limitations for Unlimited service. You can have more features and better phones, but you'll pay for them. Sprint reminded us that their flavor of all-you-can-eat wireless includes everything but wireline numbers. You get all the Text, Web, and other goodies you'd like, and you get it with virtually all of Sprint's phones. It once was, "Who talks that much?", now it's "Who just talks?" For a large number of users, Sprint's Unlimited everything-but-wirelines fits much better.

There have been many examples of carriers hanging a great plan in the window of their store, but when you go in to buy, it's not what you hoped least not at the price you hoped for. Is it wait and switch?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unlimited Limitations

We have been following the "Unlimited Wars" and have seen some hurdles that makes the choice difficult. Choosing one of the flat-rate carriers like Cricket or MetroPCS has been pretty straightforward...Unlimited is their main business. It's the other Unlimited offers that give us concern. When Page Plus introduced Unlimited at $40, it added new challenges to their already overburdened customer service. So we looked at paying a few bucks more and recommended Straight Talk. At $45 they offered Unlimited Talk, Text, Web and 411 on the entire Verizon network. It was a good choice until last month they suspended online shopping for all but a few promotions. While they are available at some Wal-Marts, we can't find the selection we would hope for. What's a big talker to do now?

As much as it hurts cheapskates like us, we feel going up the to $50 level for Unlimited (almost)everything from Boost Mobile is a good choice. And, surprisingly, we also like the service that uses the Nextel network better than the Sprint network. They also have good customer service, and phones are available online.

If they serve your market, Cricket has improved their network, their roaming and their offers with the price of their Talk, Text, Web, 411 and more, at only $40. And Cricket's customer service is reachable. At least their phone rings. Sadly, the quality of all the choices seems to be changing weekly.

Cricket & Boost as top recommendations? Whoda thunkit! Then there's the rest of us who just don't talk/text/surf that much. Happiness is the status quo.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

There's a Cricket in Your Pocket

Our Texas readers have been observing the hot competition between Pocket Wireless and Cricket Wireless which has resulted in consistently low prices for Unlimited cellular service in the area. Pocket prices in Texas started as low as $25 per month, and Cricket almost always matched that price in common areas.

Today, Leap Wireless, the parent of Cricket, announced a new Leap-operated joint venture between the two companies. This probably signals the end of the Pocket brand in south Texas, and the Lone Star state price war. Pocket will continue to operate in New England but with plan prices that don't seem to concern Cricket.

It's always bad for consumers to lose a choice in a market, but this particular move will probably help keep Cricket afloat by removing a thorn in their side. I'm surprised that Pocket makes that much difference to a semi-national company like Cricket, but then it's only a "joint venture", right? Leap Wireless should be working a deal with MetroPCS or another large carrier instead of dealing with small potatoes. I guess you do the deals you can do. San Antonio region customers will get slightly better service, but you'll pay for it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Choosing a Phone

All of our web sites focus on specific cellular features like coverage, plans and service. But one of the most important decisions you need to make is which phone model to choose. It shouldn't be your first decision because you need to establish whether a wireless carrier is available in your area before you can look at any phone. Once you have determined which carriers serve your area and which plans fit your usage, the handset is next. Today's choices can be overwhelming.

If you wanted, say, an iPhone, then you only need to determine whether AT&T serves your area. Choosing a Blackberry widens your possibilities greatly. And if any nice, small flip-phone fills your needs, the whole spectrum of carriers and plans become available. How do you take that next step?

We recommend that you start searching for your next phone at a wireless store that features multiple carriers. Best Buy and Radio Shack come to mind ("No thanks, I'm just looking"), but you also have some great online choices like Let's Talk and Wirefly who usually offer better prices than brick & mortar stores. Don't buy right away. Step back, review your notes, and then go for it. Our family usually chooses the cheapest (free?) model that fills our minimum needs. We caution you not to over-analyze your choices in Don't Sweat Your Phone Choice.

Don’t fall in love with a certain phone model. Narrow your choice to certain carriers and plans first, then choose among their handsets. We recommend where you can check specifications, side-by-side, and Moose Wireless for the best online deals. Unfortunately, the larger carriers have exclusive access to certain phone models, but even the greatest phone in the world will be disappointing on an inadequate network. If a smaller network has the best combination of coverage and features, you’d be foolish to ignore them.

There is always the possibility of using a favorite handset on a different network, but the carriers fight that as best they can. Switching a SIM among GSM phones is an effective method in some cases, but not always. This opens the possibility of buying a phone on eBay or elsewhere, but you’re on your own for support. OK, let's review: service first, handset second. Then, don't look back.