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.