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.