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.