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