Monday, December 26, 2011

Ready To Roam?

Our Wireless Roaming Web Pages were built primarily to share PRL's, SID's & MNC's for the various carriers so users could either control or predict the behavior of their cellular phone while roaming around the US. With so much consolidation in the wireless industry, there is far less roaming necessary and as a result, less need to consult our roaming databases. So our Roaming site has taken on a new focus: International Roaming.

We added a bunch of new pages and information about using your current phone outside the US, how to talk & text on the cheap, and what pitfalls to avoid. Our most popular pages were for Roaming in Mexico, but as the holidays were approaching, it looks like travelers were headed to other locations around the globe and on Cruise Ships. We also added a specific section for Canada.

Another popular feature is our Recommendations. The AT&T GoPhone and Cricket lead the pack for cheap short-term use in Canada & Mexico, with AT&T being the top roaming phone service for use around the globe, but definitely not the cheapest. Bon Voyage!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

T-Mobile Love-Hate

-AT&T wanted to love T-Mobile, but hates that it can't.
-T-Mobile customers will love the new roaming capabilities that are coming.
-T-Mobile's owners love the $3 Billion check that AT&T will be sending them, but may still hate the network enough to look for another buyer.
-Consumers will love the fact that carriers will still have more competition, carriers may hate it.

-Sprint will love that they won't be the next to be gobbled up, but will still hate those "disruptive" plans that T-Mobile comes up with.
-Thousands of T-Mobile employees will love that their jobs are not in immediate jeopardy, especially the girl in the pink dress.
-We love the dozen or so web pages and articles dedicated to T-Mobile that we won't need to delete.

-There's a bunch of lawyers who hate the idea they won't be getting any more of the millions that AT&T was spending to fight for the merger.
-Dish Network, and maybe a few other suitors, love the idea that there now may be a wireless network for them to snuggle up with.
-As we noted a month ago, we think you'll love what's coming next! We would hate to miss it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Beware: Roaming Data

Recently we were updating the Roaming Zone pages to include rates and capabilities for US phones to roam in Canada. It also gave us the chance to update our International and Mexico roaming pages. We noted the usual roaming rates, international plans and foreign roaming capabilities. One surprise: data roaming rates can be unbelievably high. Often there were no 'packages' for data roaming. T-Mobile charges as much as $15 per MB for foreign data. And even if you find a good rate, rounding up increases your effective cost for small quantities of usage.

Some users who don't take advantage as sites like ours have been known to receive roaming charges in the thousands of dollars, and one unlucky T-Mobile customer got a roaming bill for over $200,000!

Domestic data roaming charges have also been a problem but the FCC is keeping those fees more reasonable. Outside the US...the sky's the limit! Unless you know your rates in advance, or you have a roaming data package, consider turning off your phone's Data capabilities before leaving the US. At least check the International Roaming Considerations and keep that nasty surprise from your vacation nothing more than a sunburn.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Get an Employee Discount

We are constantly working on strategies to help wireless users get cheaper cellular service. We discovered one of the most overlooked money-savers is getting a discount based on where you work, go to school, or any organization to which you might belong. To help you find out of you're eligible, we created the Back Door Employee Discounts Page. You can find out if you can get a discount based on any associations you might have. Savings can be as high as 25%. Programs include some combination of phones, service and plans. Often you don't need to change your carrier or your plan and some include other members of your family.

These programs are mainly offered by the largest wireless carriers but there are also some opportunities among smaller carriers including the LifeLine program. In some cases these savings are dramatic if you qualify, but more often you'll find several good ideas on our Cheaper Wireless Service Page which was recently updated with 13 simple ideas on how to save on wireless either with your current carrier, or by changing. Stop overpaying for wireless, especially if it's a simple as changing your plan. A majority of wireless users are reported to be on the wrong plan...but nobody in this group, right?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Unlimited Gets Cheaper

Page Plus is one of our favorite pay-as-you-go wireless services partly because they have competitively-priced plans. Their plans are about to get even better as they drop the price of their Unlimited Talk & Text plan to $40 per month. Starting December 7th, you can get the new refill rate including with an auto-pay service which eliminates the most-hated headache of prepaid: remembering to refill at the end of each interval.

Not only do we like Page Plus's prices, we also like the idea that they offer an excellent alternative to switch your CDMA phone to pay-as-you-go with your existing Alltel or Verizon Wireless or US Cellular phone. Page Plus also throws in 20 Mb of data access at that price. This price matches those available from Unlimited leaders, Metro PCS, SIMple Mobile and even Cricket, and Page Plus offers a superior network.

Our own Wireless Network also offers Discount Page Plus Phones and a long list of Page Plus Refills. They achieved Mountain Wireless's "The Best" List and solidify that position among Unlimited offerings with the new price. We hope other carriers will take note. We don't like the term, "Price War," how 'bout just some plain ol' "competition."

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Wireless in the Dakotas

While some carriers talk about wireless deals in the Billions, there are some areas of the country that are just now getting their first taste of wireless. While some of that infamous "stimulus" money made its way to the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations for a nice shiny new broadband network, there is another native American enclave just getting their first access at plain old wireless service. In some cases it's the first telephone service, period.

Straddling the border of North and South Dakota is the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, an area with almost no cellular coverage. They have taken it upon themselves to put up their own cellular sites and from those sites they're also serving their neighbors with WIMAX broadband service. The tribal authorities considered their own wired network, but found wireless much cheaper. It was just this summer that the FCC decided Standing Rock deserves money from the Universal Service Fund to help supply affordable service to the citizens of the area with their first telephone service of any kind. This is an area with 75% should be easier to find work with a phone available, not to mention better health care, emergency services and education.

So, while we watch Billion dollar wireless deals go back and forth, keep in mind those Americans who are just now getting their first wireless (and telephone) service. Standing Rock Telecom gets credit for moving ahead long before the federal bucks became available. Wireless will change lives there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Viaero Invades Kansas

With the grand opening of the new Viaero Wireless store in Hays, Kansas, we anxiously await their takeover of the Kansas rural wireless market. Viaero is doing what every small wireless carrier should be doing. They offer competitive price plans, good customer support and a top-notch network. They dominate rural Nebraska and also give the major carriers a run for their money in eastern Colorado.

Now Viaero is taking over rural Kansas and is also working their way into new territory in central Colorado. I give credit to AT&T and Verizon for maintaining a few sites in these rural areas, but this is Viaero's bread and butter...they focus on the needs of the rural customer. If you're near their coverage, you can even petition Viaero for a cell site in your town.

This carrier has overcome a number of challenges including backhaul bottlenecks by completely bypassing the local wireline companies. This has actually made Viaero's network more reliable than others, especially during bad weather. This also makes them a good option for replacing your wired home phone for both voice calls and Internet access.

Viaero's expansion into rural Kansas may step on the toes of a few other small wireless operators in the area and we hope they will all play nice for their mutual benefit. FCC license records show that South Dakota could be Viaero's next beachhead, but we're hoping they have even bigger plans.

This is a network run by technical guys instead of salesmen, so their innovations truly result in a better product instead of fancier window dressing. We can't be sure if there is a direct correlation, but AT&T has a significant number of applications with the FCC to upgrade cell sites in Viaero's Colorado and Kansas markets. What a coincidence!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Get Ready for Big Changes

The pendulum is beginning to swing away from approval of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal, but whatever the result of the court action early next year, expect some potentially earth-shaking changes. Laws forbid anybody talking about any deal other the one on the table now, but rest-assured there's a lot of talking behind the scenes. Everyone now needs a "Plan B." Just because they can't talk about it doesn't mean there isn't planning for it.

Since the deal was first announced, several companies now have some spectrum to sell, to buy, or utilize. These include a number of cable, satellite and broadband operators that could either offer their spectrum to a newly-independent T-Mobile, or grab some spectrum that gets spun off as a result of any AT&T divestiture.

Either way, expect this quiet period to be followed by big fireworks next spring. There are a number of players who may jump into the wireless arena in a big way. Consider Google, Apple, Microsoft, and some names we've never thought of. Your captain has turned on the fasten seat belts sign.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cox Goes, Frontier Comes

Cox Wireless has decided to get out of the retail wireless business. Cox has their own wireless spectrum, but decided to offer wireless as an MVNO with Sprint instead. It was a nice idea for Cox to be able to offer their customers a wireless component to their communcations bundles, but it wasn't worth the trouble. Qwest, now CenturyLink (CTL) found that out, too, and eventually partnered up as an agent for Verizon Wireless (VZ).

Frontier Communications (FTR), a rural wireline operator, has learned from these mistakes and has decided to add a wireless product to their bundles with an agreement with AT&T (T). Frontier will act as an agent for AT&T and not as an MVNO. One minor effect is that Frontier becomes another communications provider that will probably not be interested in buying a wireless network, like, oh, maybe T-Mobile.

What will happen to the Cox wireless spectrum at 700 MHz and AWS? They might be hoping that AT&T might be spectrum shopping sometime next year.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is it OK for Alltel to Lose Customers?

Last week Alltel's corporate owner, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATN), reported their 3rd quarter financial results, and among the numbers was a drop in Alltel "retail" customers. Those are the people who use cellular service actually provided by Alltel, not those who are using an Alltel phone but are really Verizon Wireless customers. We expected a drop in Alltel customers but the news is not all bad.

While there are fewer Alltel customers, there are more people using ATN's networks. Along with the Comment Wireless network, Alltel's owners report a larger number of other wireless users roaming on ATN networks, and an increase in revenue as a result. While roaming isn't needed as much as it was before, wireless roamers are using more minutes and data which means more income for ATN.

Dare we say ATN might be better off without Alltel customers as long as they can receive the benefits of the Alltel network? Nah. Being a 'real' wireless carrier has lots of benefits, and there's the synergy with the other ATN wireless companies, including Choice Wireless, Commnet and several smaller ATN projects. This might explain that after ATN revealed their 'bad' economic news, the company's stock price went UP, and today received a new "Buy" rating from Yep, we're still likin' Alltel, whether we can talk on it or not.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Going Really Wireless

A few years ago when the number of households going totally wireless was approaching 20%, we started a web site catering to those who wanted to cut the cord, The Unwired Home. At that time we focused on cutting yourself off from the traditional wired phone company, but not necessarily from the wire. We included DSL and Cable TV as "Unwired" alternatives and only getting your Voice service from elsewhere.

Times have changed. Now, over 25% of us are going without a connection to the phone company, and almost that many are getting their broadband services without a wire as well. With 4G, and even most 3G coverage, many of the wireless companies provide adequate broadband service that is just as portable as our cellular phone has always been. With proper modems, we can connect multiple wired phones in our house to our wireless broadband connection. We have reflected this change at The Unwired Home, much to the disappointment of our wired broadband partners. Sorry guys, we just woke up and smelled the coffee...burning.

Even this move toward wireless is already yesterday's news as our tablets, computers and readers are already connecting to 3G and 4G wireless without any move on our part. Look for even more 'unwiring'...even the phone company may use wireless for the last few feet of your connection from their already widely-spread nodes. Yes, we do need more spectrum...use yours wisely.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

T-Mobile Gives Us the Deals

It was just over a week ago when I said T-Mobile needs to give us some better deals to stick with them in these merging times. So they did. There are new pay-by-the day plans as well as a new monthly plan, and a prepaid deal with Wal-Mart. The new Wal-Mart prepaid plan, also available online, is a $30 no-contract plan with up to 5 GB of data on T-Mobile's HSPA+ (4G) network with unlimited texting and 100 voice minutes, with a charge of 10 cents per minute after that.

T-Mobile has been one our preferred prepaid services and if you're leery of what might happen to them next year, prepaid might reduce those fears. However, whichever way the AT&T/T-Mobile deals goes, T-Mobile customers should come out winners. You will either be able to become an AT&T customer with a more value-priced T-Mobile plan, or, if AT&T can't do the deal, T-Mobile will end up with some additional spectrum and more favorable roaming agreements.

It's also a good thing that T-Mobile's network is not overloaded...and we like lower prices. That's what I'm takin' about!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2 Cellular One's Become ONE

Cellular One of East Texas has merged with Cellular One/MTPCS. We normally shed a tear when a cellular network gets gobbled up, but this one makes sense for consumers. We don't yet know if the East Texas name will remain but the two have combined plans and services and they are quite attractive. Along with their reasonable price plans they also offer a few really useful add-ons including economical broadband plans.

The Cellular One/MTPCS networks across the south have very good coverage as they were mostly part of Centennial Wireless who had really good coverage but really bad marketing. I'm going to guess Cellular One might come to the table if some larger carrier (hmmmm, like AT&T?) needs to spin off some conflicting spectrum sometime in the future, as long it's in Louisiana, Oklahoma or Texas.

Since most of the southern coverage of Cellular One was created from divested AT&T areas, there is little chance of them being gobbled up by AT&T in the near future. This is ONE ball that we'd like to keep rolling.

Monday, October 17, 2011

No iPhun

We spent much time last week trying to find something different to talk about than the Apple iPhone 4S, but there wasn't much. Apple enthusiasts wanted something more, but real wireless customers stood in line to grab the 4S. Unfortunately, iPhone madness is bypassing T-Mobile. Sprint had to sell their soul to add the iPhone to their lineup while T-Mobile is still trying to sell their soul to AT&T.

As the drama for the AT&T/T-Mobile linkup drags on, well into next year, T-Mobile slips behind the competition. Their head office is still acting like the deal is a foregone conclusion, but if they continue to not compete, 'foregone conclusion' moves toward 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. Even we wish we had more to recommend about T-Mobile, other than Prepaid.

AT&T may not be too concerned as their objective appears to be more of eliminating T-Mobile as a competitor than actually taking over their spectrum, but now they should be concerned about taking over fewer customers as well. T-Mobile users with expiring contracts now have no reason not to switch, maybe to Sprint. T-Mobile needs to help keep them home...they just may need those customers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Celllular South Gets In-Spired

Last week Cellular South re-branded themselves as "C Spire Wireless." Behind the scenes, Cellular South has been working hard to keep the larger carriers in check, even going as far as joining The Department of Justice and Sprint in suing AT&T to block the T-Mobile acquisition. They even appeared at the first Senate hearing on the transaction to express their disapproval. Cellular South has also made numerous complaints to the FCC on handset and roaming issues which has somewhat helped other small carriers.

C Spire is one of the Top 10 wireless carriers with almost a million customers but is limited to Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee with no significant plans to expand beyond that. It's unfortunate because we need a spunky carrier like this making noise in a larger swath across America.

C Spire is 'talking the talk', and we hope they follow through with their consumer-centric behavior which has kept companies like US Cellular moving forward. C Spire's plans and deals are better than average and it's comforting to know that management told employees that the customer is king, and the king could leave tomorrow, so let's keep him happy. It's a move that should make us happy even if we don't live in the south.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The End-Around

There's more than one way to get what you want from wireless. Great phones? Low Prices? If we can't get it from the carriers themselves, there are other ways. We've been maintaining a list of "alternative networks" which gives you a way to dump your carrier but stay on their network. If you wanted to use the Verizon network, you could sign up for Page Plus instead, and pay quite a bit less. You could enjoy the AT&T network by grabbing a GSM Tracfone or just a Stargate SIM. While your phone selections would be smaller, you could be saving some bucks and still be on the same network.

This process recently moved to the next level. First, the carriers themselves started offering cheaper prepaid services such as Verizon's Prepaid as low as $50 per month for Unlimited Talk & Text. Then there's Straight Talk that now offers a phone model for each of the Top 4 cellular networks including an Android phone that uses Sprint's 3G network. This past week, Cricket announced they will offer their phones at all Best Buy stores whether or not they're in Cricket markets. In non-Cricket locations, the phone will access the Sprint 3G network just as if you were on Cricket's own network, so you access the Sprint network at Cricket's lower prices.

The 3rd end-around is a little farther over the horizon. Sign up today for one of T-Mobile's value-priced plans and you could end up as an AT&T customer at less than AT&T rates. If AT&T should lose out on their quest to buy T-Mobile, you will still be left on a stronger and broader T-mobile network that could end up in the hands of a different and more enlightened buyer. Now that the transaction is headed to court, don't expect this end-around to produce fruit for maybe a year.

Confusing for the casual wireless shopper? Yes. For the rest of us...opportunity!

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Prepaid Skirmishes

This past week saw several moves that made Prepaid wireless even more desirable. AT&T was first by making their AT&T GoPhone more competitive with a $25 monthly plan. The new plan includes 250 Voice minutes and Unlimited Text (SMS) for 30 days. Their $50 plan, which comes with Unlimited Talk and Text, will still be available. In addition, AT&T will offer an international calling package for Prepaid and has expanded GoPhone roaming to Canada. GoPhone is already one of our preferred choices for roaming calls in Mexico. AT&T's new plan will be available this Sunday (9/18).

Then Verizon Wireless announced a new Prepaid plan at $50 that includes Unlimited Talk, Text and Web. Unlimited Web is confined to "feature" phones, Unlimited data for Smart phones is an additional $30. You can add Email for $7 and Verizon offers 4 phones for this new plan. Verizon offers this plan now.

Boost Mobile reacted by saying their $50 Unlimited plan is better because it includes Smart phones, but their new Android phones will incur an additional $5 charge for these plans starting in October. But their 'reducing your price every 6 months' feature still applies.

MetroPCS claims their plans are better because they're cheaper. But one financial blogger claims Verizon's move puts MetroPCS into a better position to be acquired by Verizon, whether that was Verizon's intent or not. Metro's pricing power may be reduced when Verizon's price is similar. If AT&T can have T-Mobile, why can't Verizon have Metro PCS?

Additionally, a sharp-eyed reader alerted us to the fact that Straight Talk Unlimited now offers coverage from your choice of one of the Top 4 carriers, based on phone model, with their new Android phones operating on the Sprint network.

Now it's even more acceptable to Switch to Prepaid. However, look at all the other trends we're facing:

  • We're Switching from Postpaid to Prepaid

  • We're Going Totally Wireless

  • We may be losing 2 of the Top 5 carriers

  • Smart phone plan prices are increasing.

  • Unlimited data is going and data throttling is coming.
We have provided the best online deals for all of these carriers on our Moose Wireless shopping page, and don't forget when you switch to Prepaid, check out one of the only sources of Discount Prepaid Refills. It's a trend, don'tcha know.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What of T-Mobile?

I have been reading everything I can about the AT&T/T-Mobile deal to find a unique view of the future of this transaction. Even the "experts" can't determine what is most likely to happen. We tried to follow the money and found: AT&T stock dropped only 5% when the DOJ opposition was announced and T-Mobile's stock dropped 10%. That tells us the consensus is that the outcome will negatively affect T-Mobile more than AT&T.

The biggest hurdle is that the Department of Justice does not want to lose a 4th national carrier and most of AT&T's potential alternatives call for doing just that. So, as of now, the Feds say T-Mobile must survive. Many have speculated who could come to the rescue. I even listed some possibilities in our comments of May 16, 2011. Any suitor would need to bring 10's of Billions to the table. If T-Mobile actually receives the penalty payment of cash, spectrum and roaming concessions from AT&T, it will be a stronger and more valuable company. This makes the idea of spinning off T-Mobile into its own company a viable option. That means you and I can own it (as stockholders). Wouldn't that be fun?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quote of the Year

The US Department of Justice said today:

"AT&T could obtain substantially the same network enhancements that it claims will come from the transaction if it simply invested in its own network without eliminating a close competitor..."

Just like we said.

Monday, August 22, 2011

AT&T Spins the Facts in Montana

AT&T made statements published today in the Independent Record newspaper in Helena, MT that makes us wonder if they're ignorant or hope that we are. Montana is one of the most-researched states among the Mountain Wireless Cellular Networks, and there is much concern about wireless service in such a rural state. The Independent Record reported that "(AT&T Regional President Adam Grzybicki) said that now they look to increase the coverage and expand its power from 3G to 4G LTE. That build-out, however, is contingent on a merger with T-Mobile." That means that in order to add 4G service in Montana, AT&T needs T-Mobile's spectrum.

The reality is AT&T has held 1900 MHz PCS licenses in Montana for years. AT&T also possesses a large amount of AWS (1700/2100 MHz) spectrum in Montana and many other states that also remains undeveloped. They do not need T-Mobile's spectrum in these areas to offer new service just as they did not need Alltel's spectrum to offer cellular service in Montana. It was just easier, and probably cheaper, to take over all of Alltel's cell sites and customers than build their own. AT&T wants to expand through acquisition of existing networks instead of using their already-owned spectrum. The elimination of T-Mobile as a competitor is just icing on the cake. Is expansion by acquisition necessary, especially in places like Montana where there is no T-Mobile network?

Dangling the carrot of 4G wireless broadband service to the isolated rural residents would certainly encourage locals to support the AT&T/T-Mobile combination. This has happened in several rural states where politicians have added their support to the deal. The question remains, though, why hasn't AT&T used their existing unused spectrum to offer service in these areas long ago? If you live in a rural area like Montana, are you watching the carrot or are you wondering why hasn't this been done already?

Friday, August 19, 2011

This is the Other Bargain Season

Aside from the 2 months before Christmas, it appears this is another one of the biggest bargain seasons of the year. Most carriers are offering 'Back to School' specials that are geared toward the college student using a phone away from home, but can easily apply to your own wireless usage.

We don't have a list of these individual deals, but the best way to find them is to choose your favorite carrier or prepaid service and see what their offer is like today from a site that lists offers from ALL the cellular services. Other Back to School deals can be found at the top wireless retailers, Lets Talk and Wirefly.

These deals should disappear by September 1st, then you'll need to wait for Black Friday.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

AT&T Falls Flat in Four Corners

Of all the areas where the transition from Alltel to AT&T has gone badly, it looks like the Four Corners, that area around the intersection of AZ, CO, NM, & UT, has suffered the worst. We have read anecdotal stories about poor coverage and a difficult transition in a handful of other ex-Alltel areas, but here AT&T may have failed the wrong group of users. The reports of poor service have been experienced right in the hands of the local government of San Juan County of New Mexico, probably AT&T's largest customer in the area. The complaints are serious, from poor 911 service, unusable coverage, and the inability to get phones fixed.

AT&T's assistant vice president for consumer sales and service, Leighton Carroll, was called before the county commission and was caught saying, "We are adding capacity, adding cell phone towers, increasing our footprint." He said that to the wrong person. San Juan County General Services and Community Development Administrator Larry Hathaway noted, "I am in charge of issuing the building permits for San Juan County. They are issued out of my office. We have not seen any activity from AT&T at all, but we have seen activity from your competition. You tell us that activity is going to happen by the end of the year, but we aren't seeing those permits coming through our office." AT&T says otherwise, but their actions, or lack of them, speak louder than words.

If AT&T becomes the largest wireless operator in the country with the addition of T-Mobile, should we expect them to be even less responsive? Bigger is not always better. If I was living in Farmington I would be dumping my AT&T phone. Yo, Sprint!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MetroPCS Can't Save Us From the Dark Side

Financial results for MetroPCS today caused their stock to drop one third, that's over 30% in one day. We try not to focus on the money side of the carriers, but poor performance, or at least not stellar performance, is why T-Mobile is jumping into the arms of AT&T. It was hoped that Sprint, Cricket and MetroPCS would rise to fill the void left by T-Mobile. Metro's rise was counted on by wireless users across the US, the FCC, and, yes, even by AT&T itself.

AT&T claims that there's plenty of competition and was referring to MetroPCS as much as anyone. With such a poor showing, we can only hope that Metro will start playing nice with Cricket Wireless again to assure at least a 4th significant US wireless carrier. The two have been hinting at a merger for several years but just haven't made it to the alter. Now MetroPCS may be coming courting, and Cricket should chirp out a 'yes'. These two have complimentary spectrum so it's something that should happen sooner rather than later.

Monday, July 25, 2011

When the Lawyers Arrive

Back in the 50's when the US was laying out the Interstate Highway System, a number of rural families saw their business about to fall due to the passing of motorists on the new highway with no reason to stop at their roadside stands, motels and cafes. Some families were able to convince the Highway designers to add a exit ramp, others weren't so fortunate. One affected family decided to fight back and found a way to force the feds hand. The land owner divided his acreage among his family members forcing the government to deal with dozens of hostile land owners just to build one mile of highway. They got their exit ramp.

A group of lawyers have provided a modern day roadblock to the AT&T/T-Mobile deal by dividing up a few miles of wireless highway with lawsuits representing a large number of AT&T "customers". These attorneys have filed the first of maybe a hundred legal actions that each need to be dealt with before the AT&T deal can be approved. They claim just one win will stop the process.

Fight the just may provide the kind of impasse that makes this wireless deal get bogged down in paperwork. Before you get too giddy about this development, consider that if the deal does get done, the legal costs just may indeed increase the ultimate cost of wireless to customers, just what the lawsuits are trying to prevent. Let's hope the deal blockers can also provide an alternate route for T-Mobile to take to sell off their network. Beware of unintended consequences.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Carrier We Won't Miss

We just discovered that AT&T applied earlier this year to the FCC to take over Lamar County Cellular, a carrier around Paris, Texas. The Lamar network looked, acted and operated as if it was already run by AT&T. Locals may have not realized Lamar wasn't operated by AT&T. If it quacks like a duck...

I'm not sure how long it's been since anybody at Lamar actually answered the phone, but we have been giving them an unfavorable review for several years because they wouldn't answer our calls. The info on their web has been out of date since 2006.

So, sometimes the loss of a carrier isn't a big deal. AT&T just started recently with the formalities and, in this case, there's no reason to confuse this action at the FCC with those of the impending marriage of AT&T and T-Mobile. After, all, we'll always have Paris.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Does My Phone Sound So Bad?

The answer is that the carriers are busy adding capacity for our insatiable hunger for data instead of helping us sound less like C3PO. Voice calls are not the growth segment of their market. A recent CNN article noted that good-sounding wireless calls are available, on "HD" phones, but not in the US. Count Canada, the UK and Uganda, yes, Uganda, among the 22 countries where more normal-sounding phones are available. Not here.

There's hope. Higher-quality phones require more bandwidth and there's more bandwidth to be had on the new LTE networks. You just need an "app" for that. This is assuming we will still be talking to each other. TTYL?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who Uses Smart Phones?

You might have seen headlines based on the latest Pew Research study of cell phone usage reporting 35% of all adults in the US are using a Smart phone. We like to look at the other side of things. The first statistic we want to note is that 58% of adult phone users are NOT using Smart phones. The carriers call those non-Smart handsets "Feature" phones, but we know them as 'flip' phones or 'bar' phones. That means most of us are still just making voice calls and Texts.

One of the most interesting results from the study is that 25% of these Smart phone owners use their phone for Internet access more than any other device. That's 10% of wireless users surfing the 'Net more than on a computer.

Our take is that the majority of us still use simple phones and don't use our phones that much for Internet access. There are many of us who hate talking into a huge Smart phone that brings to mind talking into the "brick" of a couple decades ago. We're looking at the day when the best phone is one that talks with a tiny form factor and surfs with a huge (iPad-size) screen. It's the iFoldPhone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GoPhone Wows Us

Over the last year or so, the AT&T GoPhone has been slowly working its way into our hearts by improving and becoming a very useful prepaid service. We pay for our own GoPhone service, so this isn't a review after using a phone that was supplied by AT&T. Instead of discussing each attribute, I'll just list them:

  • While GoPhone is still limited to the AT&T network in the US, it's now available across a large part of the US after the Alltel acquisitions.

  • Unlimited calling is now as low as $50 per month.

  • PayGo rates are as low as .10 per minute.

  • GoPhone roams in Mexico on the superior TelCel network at only .25 per minute.

  • GoPhone now offers PayGo web access (for 'feature phones') at a reasonable price. What is reasonable? I can get weather reports and stock prices for as low as .01 each. Most web pages cost .10 each.

  • GoPhone Refills can be found at significant discounts.


  • Refills are still limited to 30 to 90 days. You need to spend $100 to get a year's refill unlike T-Mobile's $10 threshold.

  • Downloads for certain PayGo features incur a charge, although that charge is usually just .01.

  • On my newer Nokia, a call to 611 does not get you a person, it forces you around a downloaded service program that is unhelpful.
Our personal use of GoPhone starts with our frequent trips to Mexico and then works down the balance in the US for the months following. Our normal 'backup' phones still use T-Mobile Prepaid based on their low Refill requirements. But the GoPhone keeps getting better.

Ultimately our T-Mobile phones may become GoPhones (please let us keep our Gold Rewards!), but if AT&T can extend the expiration dates, we'll be immediate converts!

Monday, June 27, 2011

South Central Wireless Bites the Dust

A few days ago South Central Communciations (SCC) of southern Utah stopped offering cellular service. This means their customers have been set free and their employees have gone home. SCC operated a good network and they were the only cellular service in several remote corners of Utah. Their Internet, phone and video services continue to operate as usual.

It'ss distressing that SCC could find no takers for their wireless looks like they couldn't give it away. This did not come as a complete surprise as South Central notified their 7,000 wireless customers in advance and helped them switch to another wireless carrier. Part of that assistance was keeping those towers where they were the only cellular service in town operating, with the assumption that their CDMA operating partners (Verizon, Sprint, etc.) can still roam on those towers. Who operates those towers now and in the future is not clear.

This may reflect the plight of small carriers all across the US, even those with other strong communications departments. So far we haven't received any official announcement from SCC. Most of our information comes from those directly affected by the changes. This reduction in service also affects some of the tiny carriers in Utah and surrounding states that helped each other with intersystem roaming, and will affect our coverage maps for those systems. We will release additional information as we get it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chicago Loves US Cellular

Chicago is the largest city in the US Cellular network and residents of the Windy City should consider themselves lucky. They are among the ones who can choose US Cellular as their favorite carrier, and many of those that have, love it. By the end of this year, US Cellular will offer 4G over much of its network with a whole bunch of new Android devices.

It's great to see a company that is pretty much ignoring the inroads of the larger cellular carriers and making wireless user-friendly and competitive in several US markets. There's no reason to avoid US Cellular and they can only lose to the louder markeing efforts of the larger carriers. Winning rave reviews at Mountain Wireless, in consumer magazines, and among savvy users, is no small fete. With 98% of their network already 3G, with 4G right around the corner, Chicago-landers, and all users in US Cellular markets are lucky indeed.

While the financial winds may not be blowing in their favor, the owners of US Cellular are treating their network like it will operate independently forever. Considering that the Carlson family still enjoys the job, it just may. Enjoy it while we can.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Are Your Wireless Costs Going Down?

In response to fears that wireless prices will rise after the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, responded that after 5 big mergers in the past 10 years, "Telecom prices have dropped by more than 50 percent." and that "AT&T's price for one megabyte of data has dropped by 90 percent over the past four years." He added customers are paying more because they're using more. So it was time to get out my calculator.

Most members of my family are not big wireless users and the cost of a minimum number of minutes over the past 5 years has risen from $30 to $40. Adding a few useful App's has added an additional $2 to $6 a month. These Apps formerly just used minutes, now they're a separate charge. Next is the use of data. Data was also allowed at a per minute rate but are now charged in blocks from $2 to $60 per month. How about 411 calls? They were once .69 per call, now they can be $2 each.

I agree we are using more Apps and other services but the carriers have found a way to make more money from our desire to choose other than just chocolate and vanilla. Those of us at the bottom of the wireless food chain who take small bites of these additional services are now easily paying more than double what we were paying as few as 3 years ago. Our prices have not dropped 50% even though our usage has changed very little. Of course, those of us using gobs of broadband are indeed watching the price drop, but it's competition that's keeping these top-paying customers around. By my calculations, the lower and middle classes appear to be paying 50 to 100% more.

Where is Ralph getting his data? By looking at the bills of his top wireless users? We'll do what we can: watch for more articles here on how to get your wireless costs back under control, hopefully with a choice of 4 major wireless carriers in the years to come.

Friday, May 27, 2011

AT&T's Full Court Press

This past week has been a busy one for AT&T in their efforts to gain Federal approval of their acquisition of T-Mobile. As expected, AT&T is applying pressure for the deal, and other entities are d0ing what they can to oppose it. Here are a few highlights:

  • Several states, including California, have started a 'review' of the deal. They can't stop the deal but they can ask the feds to do so.

  • AT&T gained (strong armed?) the support of a handful of state governors in favor of the deal, uh, all are Republicans except one. Who's getting the most new cell sites this year?

  • Support comes from the AFL-CIO who might assume that T-Mobile employees would need to become unionized as AT&T employees. What are the chances anyone from T-Mobile will actually wind up working at AT&T, or even in the wireless business?

  • AT&T had the great timing to apply for additional 700 MHz spectrum. Why would they need additional spectrum if the T-Mobile deal will provide them with "enough?"

  • AT&T has over 100 registered Washington lobbyists. 'nuff said.

  • While Congress has no direct role in approving the acquisition, some members have stated extreme opposition with words like, "I see no redeeming reason” for federal regulators to approve the transaction, "Not one."

  • (Added at 4:15pm ET) The FCC has requested that AT&T must show why there is a need for so much additional spectrum and 49 other questions like how many "thousands of jobs will be created by the acquisition." This should lawyers in clover for months.
We expect this to actually become humorous as we hear even more extreme positions. I'm waiting for Sarah Palin to chime in, "Don't all the phones belong to AT&T?" You watch.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The End of the Regional Plan

Everybody wants their wireless phone to have National coverage even if they never stray more than 100 miles from home. We want what we want, not what we need. During last week's Senate hearing for the AT&T/T-Mobile acquisition, it was brought out that AT&T competed with various wireless carriers at the local level providing a significant level of competition. The CEO of Cellular South, a carrier based primarily in Mississippi, argued that all cellular is now national based on customers no longer buying Regional plans. All carriers compete nationally and that puts smaller carriers at a disadvantage.

I checked with the top 15 wireless carriers and found that indeed none of them offer Local or Regional plans any longer. Too bad. That was a great way to save on a wireless plan when your carrier needs to pay fewer roaming charges. Nobody cares. We all want universal coverage.

Among the smaller carriers, "Unlimited" and "Data" plans are usually limited to a certain coverage area, either to their own network, or to that of a 'preferred' roaming partner's network. As an example, nTelos, a regional carrier based in Virginia and surrounding states shows their voice coverage with a map of the US with most of the country colored in. If you select "Data" or "Unlimited" services you get a very different map. You get what looks like the Sprint network map, shown here. Yes, it is not Regional, but it isn't quite National, either. It's OK if it works for you.

Many of the Unlimited wireless operators offer a value-priced plan with limited coverage, but even then, they normally need to include adjacent areas. There's no more interest in Regional and Local plans. After all, we want what we want.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Happens to Sprint?

Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint/Nextel testified last week before the Senate committee investigating the AT&T/T-Mobile acquisition that if the deal goes through, Sprint will become a takeover target. Of course our biggest fear is that Verizon Wireless will be the most likely acquirer. But political winds just may prevent that from happening. So, who gets Sprint?

Bloomberg Business reported Monday it will most likely be CenturyLink. CenturyLink is the 3rd largest wireline player and they need a wireless outlet and they have the money. This leads us to question why can't Centurylink be the knight in shining armor to ride in and pick up T-Mobile?

A review of T-Mobile's part of the application to the FCC gives a strong clue. T-Mobile wants to remain a strong wireless player in the world and intends to improve their global position not just with the $39 Billion that AT&T will give them, but also with the 5% ownership stake in AT&T with all the technical and financial perks that come with it. T-Mobile doesn't want to become the wireless arm of a smaller wireline company, they want a piece of the action at the Big Boys table, and hooking up with AT&T gets them admission to the Big Game.

The good news is that Centurylink would probably be a good steward of Sprint's spectrum and could be a good value among wireless players. Centurylink's pricing philosophy follows an 'everyday low prices' avenue and may set its pricing to more compete with MetroPCS and Cricket. It will take time for conditions to be ripe for anyone to acquire Sprint, and in that time it might, gulp, be financially prudent for Sprint to make a few acquisitions of their own. Say it isn't so.

Monday, May 16, 2011

T-Mobile Needs to Be Sold

OK, here I am jumping over to the other side of the fence. As much as I do NOT want just 2 big wireless carriers in this country, T-Mobile's demise may be inevitable. Their owner, Deutsch Telekom, wants out of the business in the US and AT&T may be the only possible buyer. We can't force Deutsch Telekom to keep the business intact (although $6 Billion in AT&T penalty money might help), so who, if not AT&T?

Sprint hasn't got the money to pay what AT&T is offering and the funds necessary to convert the network to CDMA. It's the same story for the next 2 largest carriers, MetroPCS and Cricket, both CDMA carriers. US Cellular is another company on the edge and can't buy it without giving up the company's unique ownership structure, and smaller carriers can't count their funds with a "B" in front of their "-illions". Selling off in pieces would still probably go to the only players able to afford "pieces."

That leaves the foreign carriers like China Mobile, Telefonica or the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, owner of America Movil, parent of TracFone and Mexico's TelCel. Would these companies be more likely to gain approval than AT&T? What would stop a German company from selling to a Mexican company? A few dozen AT&T lobbyists, maybe? This may be the story of one Mexican being asked to please cross the border.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sprint Will Pay Your ETF

Sprint is offering up to $175 to customers who switch from other wireless carriers. The credit will "give customers a chance to try Sprint without having to worry about fees or charges for terminating their contracts with their current carriers," Sprint spokesman Lloyd Karnes said in an e-mail. The offer is $175 for business customers who switch and buy any Sprint phone; $125 for individual customers who buy a smartphone; or $75 for individuals who buy a low-end "feature phone."

To get the credit, accounts must be ported from existing contracts, and they must remain active for 61 days. A two-year contract is required. The offer began May 4, Karnes said, but it wasn't widely reported until Thursday, when blog Spantechular posted an "ad." The blog said Sprint was targeting only T-Mobile customers, but Karnes said the offer is valid for those switching from any rival carrier. Sprint's consumer offer is good until June 23, and the corporate offer runs through July 23.

Sprint has offered credits like this before, but they don't deny that the looming merger helped inspire the timing of this promotion. We would have hoped they would offer the average wireless user more, but with pro-rated ETF's, it may be worth it. Actually, after listening to Sprint CEO Dan Hesse at the Senate hearings, they should be encouraging people to join T-Mobile. Hesse called T-Mobile a partner in the trenches against the Big 2. He wants T-Mobile to survive. So do we, but we'll explain why they may not be able to on Monday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cricket Offers Cheap Mexico Roaming!

We're excited to see Cricket Wireless now offering Roaming in Mexico! Service is limited to voice calls but the rate is only .25/minute. This puts Cricket into the position of one of our most Preferred Mexico Roaming Options. Cricket uses the smaller CDMA network in Mexico which happens to be the same network used by roamers on Verizon Wireless and Sprint. The AT&T GoPhone is also .25/minute but also has Text Messaging available. Also, GoPhone uses the GSM network in Mexico which is larger than the CDMA network, which is especially noticeable in areas closer to the US border.

The Mexico cellular industry is going through some changes. TelCel got hit with a billion dollar penalty for limiting access to the Mexico wired network for other wireless operators. Also, 50% of the Iusacel CDMA network was recently purchased by Televesia, a Latin American company with ties to Mexico cable systems. This pulled Iusacel out of bankruptcy and increases the likelihood of the CDMA network surviving.

We thought some of these changes might negatively affect US wireless roamers, but this new deal with Cricket Wireless leads us to believe the Mexican CDMA network will be operating for some time to come, maybe even expanded. Cricket also Unlimited calling TO Mexico so it's great to see wireless competition extending beyond our borders.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Good Deal with AT&T: Get T-Mobile

Here's an interesting play on getting a lower-priced AT&T plan: sign up with T-Mobile! We still recommend T-Mobile as a better value than the larger carriers, but if you feel that AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile has any chance of happening, you could score a great T-Mobile plan now and keep it as an AT&T customer. The additional benefit is that unlike the recent Alltel takeover of some customers by AT&T, you can keep your T-Mobile GSM phone and your coverage should stay intact, although AT&T is known to shut down cell sites with duplicate coverage.

We caught this clever idea from Consumer Reports who quoted AT&T sources as saying that T-Mobile customers, like Alltel customers, should be 'grandfathered' with their existing T-Mobile plans. Oddly, the article was based on a tip that Alltel customers who don't want to be absorbed into big, bad AT&T are allowed to abandon ship and join another network. Where Consumer Reports missed the mark is that they tell readers to join T-Mobile instead. While that's a good choice, most Alltel rural takeover customers don't have T-Mobile as an option.

This could indeed be a nice way to get out of your expensive AT&T plan and into an economical plan with T-Mobile that will serve you well over the short term, and serve you even better if you do land in the AT&T corral. Yes, this makes T-Mobile an even better value than matter what you think the future brings.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Will the FCC Read Our Comments?

Yesterday, Wireless Week reported that the FCC has received over 3,000 comments about the acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T. So far, the comments are overwhelmingly against the hookup. One of the concerns is if the FCC will actually read all of those comments. While we advocated making your voice heard, it appears you have a much better chance at the state level. Sprint is actually doing just that by raising objections to the deal with the West Virginia state regulators (we can only guess they're approaching the states in reverse alphabetical order).

Not only do we all have better access to state commissions, we can actually do so in person. If nothing else it might be a local call. These people have a good chance of being your neighbors instead of faceless federal paper pushers. We recently contacted over a dozen of our state legislators and found them surprisingly responsive to both phone calls and was 100%!

I don't expect anyone here to drive down to speak to your state rep about a wireless merger, but there is a much better chance that your opinion, pro or con, will actually be heard...or read...down at the state capitol. We're looking for a sympathetic ear to insert our comments. We'll report if we find one.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cellular Noise Disclaimer

We often glean information about the wireless carriers from investment information often written by stock specialists who reveal any investment they hold in companies they report about. We decided to see how much stake we have in these wireless companies.

Among the top three contributors to this and associated web sites, we each hold mutual funds that contain numerous wireless investments. Making a rough count, these funds hold AT&T in the greatest amount with Verizon coming in a not-so-close second. We also tallied small amounts in names like US Cellular, T-Mobile's parent Deutsche Telekom, and Sprint/Nextel. We also each found a few other tiny pieces of companies like nTelos, Atlantic Tele-network and US Mobility.

Our investments have never inhibited our commentary about any one particular carrier. Being a consumer-oriented online service actually puts us at odds with almost all of them. The biggest surprise was to find our greatest investment is in AT&T, the network that, up until recently, is the one of which we have been the most critical. One of the biggest reasons we changed our tune about AT&T is the loss of their exclusivity of the iPhone. Spreading out some of the biggest data hogs to Verizon Wireless has made life better for the rest of us who are staying with AT&T.

If wireless users like you and us keep these carriers operating to the benefit of the consumer, it should help both customers and investors benefit, and you can take that to the bank.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't Give Your Old Phone to the Kids

With over 2 million phones being deactivated as AT&T replaces all those Alltel (and other) CDMA phones with GSM phones, there are a lot of handsets hitting the junk drawer. Public safety agencies report a rash of 911 calls from newly-deactivated Alltel phones that have been randomly-dialed by kids. How do they know? Every 911 call must be followed up by a visit by a police officer, if they can find the the source of the call...most often they can't.

Most wireless users do not know that a deactivated phone can still call 911. The only exceptions are analog and TDMA phones. Even phones that show "No Service" or "Invalid SIM" can still make the call.

Do a Green thing and use or properly dispose your of old phones. We have a whole list of ideas on our Old Phones Page. Could you believe what you do can be a matter of life and death? If police are bogged down by following up accidental calls, someone needing legitimate help may be delayed. Even worse, public safety agencies may become complacent about following up wireless calls. This can be a real hangup as we increase using wireless as our only phone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

AT&T Maps Add Alltel Areas

We just completed updating all of the AT&T maps on They had been waiting until all of the Alltel (and some Unicel) areas were upgraded to 3G GSM coverage. Oddly, AT&T makes a point that a 3G phone is required for the new areas, when field reports show non-3G GSM phones seem to be working. Is this an effort to make new users think they need a new AT&T phone or maybe just to brag all this new coverage is 3G. Unfortunately, there is a greater number of current AT&T customers who do not yet have 3G who get to look at these new rural areas with envy...or scorn. AT&T promised the FCC they'd upgrade the new areas first, so thanks for that.

There is also new coverage shown for GoPhone users who are normally limited to the AT&T network itself (except for Mexico). These upgrades show a huge addition of rural areas now covered by AT&T. While they added over 2 million new customers from the Alltel acquisition, most of them live in more developed areas.

If nothing else, GSM lovers are rejoicing that CDMA is no longer king of the rural west. It just had to hurt real bad at Verizon when they had to give up some of that exclusive territory to the Dark Side.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

AT&T to Alltel Transition

For many ex-Alltel customers the day of reckoning is here. The transition from Alltel to Verizon ownership was nearly painless, but AT&T needed to push their newest customers through several technological hoops. They sent a new GSM to every Alltel customer which would theoretically become their new phone the day of the switchover, hoping to provide continuous service. The carrier sent Text Messages as the deadline neared. There have been hiccups.

Much like the contentious switch by Element Wireless, some of the new AT&T phones just don't work. Some problems are technical, some are cockpit error. AT&T was able to transition customers in groups to prevent long lines of irate users. Extra staff were available at nearby AT&T stores. Indeed, the lines are long, but the waits are short. In some cases, customers are thrilled to join the AT&T family and don't mind the wait. Others are frustrated to the point that they will need to find another network.

Overall, it seems that AT&T is fairly well prepared for this massive changeover that is occurring mainly in rural parts of the US. These may the the kind of customers who may become very loyal to a carrier who handles their problems properly, and it seems for the most part, AT&T is doing just that. If the reports are accurate, we'll actually tip our hat to AT&T for a job well done.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

AT&T-Mobile High Points

Even though we oppose the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile, we feel the deal may be inevitable and need to look for the bright spots. We are pleased that few people find any bright spots, especially a number of people in power. However, a recent Wireless Week article noted a number of carriers that will benefit by gaining T-Mobile customers who will not want to be absorbed into AT&T, especially at current AT&T prices. Anything that benefits small carriers helps all wireless users...but maybe not this time.

Another left-handed benefit was voiced on CNBC by show host Mark Haines while interviewing AT&T President and CEO—AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega. Haines inserted in the interview that indeed AT&T will be able to keep wireless prices low for a long time...implying by extension that AT&T can keep prices lower than competitors, effectively driving them out of business. So much said without saying it, right? But for the many years that might take, wireless customers just may enjoy lower prices. Jim Cramer on the same network reviewed the benefits for wireless investors. It's short-term thinking, but could it be enough to get us through the fears of a duopoly until the next big thing comes around?

That kind of predatory pricing is what caused the initial breakup of the original AT&T. Even the feds fear that AT&T is assembling the pieces back together again (a la Humpty Dumpty), which may eventually require yet another breakup. After contemplating the alternatives, it seems more likely that our white knight may come from overseas instead of the US. Is it too much to hope that a German company will sell to a French company, like France Telecom (FTE)? France to help the there's a concept.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Data Roaming: Small Carriers Cheer

The FCC says cellular Data roaming should be just as available as voice and text roaming. We were the Debbie Downer a few months ago when we feared a roaming "brick wall" if smaller carriers aren't allowed access to data roaming at a reasonable rate. Of course, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have appealed this decision. Note they are the only ones.

It's very short-sighted of the top 2 carriers to oppose a friendly data-roaming environment but they probably need to appear to act like they have the interests of their stockholders in mind. The wireless customer wants to be able to roam almost anywhere, whether they actually use it or not. To be able to do so helps the wireless industry overall, no matter who owns the spectrum.

One of the difficulties in this area is that some carriers use different spectrum for data services and the FCC Order doesn't require carriers to support anything other than their own channels. This is part of the reasoning for AT&T's interest in T-Mobile. We're still heading toward the 6-band handset (or more!) being the standard for the US. Please, no bricks in my pocket.

Friday, April 8, 2011

AT&T Says Go Away

In Montana, there are areas where AT&T told ex-Alltel customers, "The engineers decided the towers are too outdated and it would cost too much to transition the're going to have 30 days to find a new carrier." As reported in the Missoulian, there are Alltel customers who are realizing their greatest fears, there will be no service. On subsequent inquiries, AT&T claims it won't be that bad, but if any customers do indeed lose service it will be very few.

We already know a lot of Alltel users thought they were using Alltel cell sites when in reality they were actually roaming on Verizon sites. This is understandable. There are few GSM roaming partners available in the rural west. This will be a big downside for those who stay with AT&T. But for AT&T to claim they're just giving up on some cell sites is a bit extreme...but also understandable. Why spend big money to upgrade a site to 3G when there are few customers?

Like we pointed out in our Reviews for customers being transferred from Alltel to AT&T, you might lose service. We also point out that some areas of Montana are served by only one carrier. We hope those at the end of the line aren't left without wireless service. Do we smell opportunity for Cellular One? For those Alltel customers now with Verizon or the "New" Alltel, service is getting better. In this case it may be a CDMA vs. GSM thing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Alltel Perks Up in the West

We implied in a recent post that Alltel was ignoring their acquired territory in their westernmost markets. Since then we have been informed that improvements are being made to their Idaho infrastructure and that they are pursuing some new public benefits. Alltel makes a convincing argument that they can serve rural areas of the state better than the local wireline companies who refuse to serve places that are too expensive to string wire.

These are really rural areas, but Alltel's sister company, Commnet, specializes in off-the-beaten-path locations. These rural areas are served by telephone co-ops with neighbors helping each other get their phones to work, but now not so much. There was a time when the co-op would use whatever means available, even a fence line, to deliver calls to widely separated homes, but can no longer do that with increasing needs for broadband and sophisticated features. It's where wireless really shines.

Alltel's parent, Atlantic Tele-Network, has taken pride in the fact that they serve so many locations in the Americas, including an increasing number of states in the US. Idaho is not an insignificant step toward the Pacific. It may be hard for city folk to believe there is a significant number of locations where cellular is the only communications available, including broadband. Think about that on your next fishing or camping trip. It's good to know Alltel is there, whether Chad appears or not, and any improvements will make life better for all of us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AT&-T-Mobile: No Slam Dunk

We have been waiting for some indication of which way the merger approval winds are blowing. We are happy to see lots of people in power objecting to an AT&T/T-Mobile combination. It would have been a concern if all of the decisions were left in the hands of the FCC and the Department of Justice. Instead, Congress, various state Attorneys General, and consumer organizations have raised objections, which gives us hope.

Here's one more concerned party that can make a difference: You! So few people take the time to make a formal comment, the words of those who do, carry a lot of weight. If your state asks for opinion, give yours. When the FCC opens the comment phase of the application, make one. Even if you want to support the acquisition, make it known. So few will speak up, one voice speaks very loudly. We don't see a middle ground solution. If it isn't a 'win-win' for all of us, it should be a 'no-no.'

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Last Days of T-Mobile

By now you know AT&T has agreed to buy T-Mobile. It's actually a good fit for more reasons than just the fact that they're both GSM. Last week's news about a T-Mobile/Sprint combination may have been nothing more than a negotiating ploy. I'm sure you have formed an opinion of the demise of T-Mobile, but it is indeed that next step toward too much wireless power in too few hands. Have we become too much of an advocate of small carriers to be impartial? Instead of being a Debbie-downer, let me throw out some of the good things that may happen in this transition.

Let's hope that the FCC slices off a few pieces of the T-Mobile network and divest it to one or more other carriers to beef up their own network. Unfortunately, all of the rest of the Top 10 carriers are CDMA-based, let alone have enough cash to pick up any pieces. US Cellular or the new Alltel might be the only ones who can take advantage of those pieces of T-Mobile that would need to be split off by over concentration in urban areas due to their lack of presence in major markets. But, oh, that CDMA thing. AT&T would say the advantages are the great amount of new bandwidth, and they get it new towers needed. Instead of picking up any pieces, see if Cricket and MetroPCS seize the day and do what it takes to grab those T-Mobile customers who just can't fathom the idea of being absorbed into AT&T. Also, Sprint and their broadband partner, ClearWire, just may get healthy enough to survive by themselves.

Coincidentally, we had scheduled an article for Monday of the advantages we all share from the powerful Top 4 networks, not the least of which are the great deals offered by re-sellers like Page Plus, TracFone, Consumer Cellular and the like. We'll need to revise a few sentences before we post that. Hey, without T-Mobile, who's gonna make fun of AT&T now?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Idaho Changes

Idaho is where our latest cellular network changes have been found. In this case the changes are good. One of those little annoying cellular mysteries has finally been cleared up with the Cambridge Telephone Company's change of name from Snake River PCS to CTC Wireless. The Snake Wireless name was shared with the Eagle Telephone Company across the river in Oregon, but they each had their own separate network. Eagle kept the Snake River name, but the SnakeRiverPCS web site doesn't apply to either one.

On the other side of the state, Custer Telephone Company has turned over their cellular network to Syringa Wireless. Custer will sell Syringa phones and service. This is a healthy trend among telephone co-ops as they co-op with other co-ops, often giving Local customers a nice regional wireless footprint, helpful customer service from neighbors, and integration with their home wired phone lines. BTW, "Syringa" is the Idaho state flower.

Alltel has a small network in Idaho that would also make a good takeover candidate for Syringa with complimentary coverage up through the center of the state. Recently, Alltel announced upgrades in the Illinois and southeastern US portions of their network but not a peep about Idaho. Does this mean the Idaho Alltel properties may be sold or traded, or that Chad just hasn't found a good airfare to Boise? No comment from Alltel.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Losing More Carriers

With today's report that Sprint/Nextel is considering buying T-Mobile, we're converting our Fat Tuesday beads to Worry Beads. It does look like a slow but sure path of consolidation toward a "Big 2" in the wireless industry. This deal could be limited to T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsch Telekom, investing in Sprint's Clearwire network to give T-Mobile a 4G footprint.

Consolidation keeps on rolling whether this deal happens or not. We were saddened to hear that Cap Rock Cellular of west Texas has sold out to AT&T. AT&T already has extensive operations throughout the state, but when Verizon Wireless jumped ahead in west Texas with the Alltel acquisition, AT&T needed to act. They become another new player in west Texas and that just may be a positive change to the locals, but it's just one more step toward making the big ones too big. This marks the 5th small Texas carrier that AT&T has grabbed, with maybe just one left, XIT Cellular.

We thought the small telephone cooperatives would be a strong voice for local wireless service, but the smell of money is too strong. Coincidentally, Cap Rock purchased their wireline operations from Southwestern Bell, a predecessor of the current AT&T. Independence is fleeting. I hope reasonably-priced wireless isn't.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Verizon's Hidden Customers

We make note of the number of wireless customers reported by each carrier and allowed for AT&T to claim the top spot after the 4th quarter results at over 95 million csutomers. We were reminded by some our Facebook Friends that some carriers have a large number of customers who are not counted, mostly in the areas of telemetry connections. One such example was reported today by Verizon Wireless, excerpts below, that connects 70 large buildings in Charlotte, NC to report and control their energy consumption.

Does this reflect one customer, Duke Energy, with a large number of 'family' plans; 70 companies with a connection to each building; or maybe the hundreds of electric meters in those buildings, each with their own cellular connection? Wireless has great potential in aiding the Smart Grid effort in the US, with the potential of every electric meter having it's own wireless number. Verizon has a large number of these types of customers and does not report them in their 94 million plus customer total.

Should we stop reporting customer numbers because they don't really reflect actual wireless connections? Naw, we like counting noses in this horse race.

"CHARLOTTE, NC -- Duke Energy today announced that Verizon Wireless will provide the telecommunications network that will connect the digital meters, signs and media players that will be used in Envision: Charlotte, a first-of-its-kind, public-private collaboration to make the commercial buildings in Charlotte’s urban core more energy efficient.

Using digital energy technologies connected by Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network, Duke Energy will gather and aggregate energy usage data from about 70 participating buildings in Charlotte’s 1.94 square mile I-277 inner-belt loop. The information will then be streamed to large interactive lobby-level screens provided by Cisco.

Building tenants will see the nearly real-time commercial energy consumption data for the community and suggested actions they can take to reduce their personal energy usage in the office.

“We are pleased that Verizon Wireless has joined along with Cisco in making this very important initiative possible,” said Vincent Davis, Duke Energy’s director of smart energy community projects. “Having near real-time energy usage information – that’s not available today with analog technology – is the first step toward awareness and proactive human engagement to reduce the amount of energy that’s wasted in commercial buildings.”

“The Envision: Charlotte project is important not only because of what it provides the community but because it uses the latest 4G technology in a manner that could have only been imagined a few years ago,” said Mark Bartolomeo, vice president, global enterprise sales, Verizon Wireless. “Verizon Wireless is excited to be a part of such a cutting edge project that will surely become a benchmark for others who need the high speeds, low latency and reliability of LTE network in the future. This is a real-life example of how machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is an effective way to empower people as they become stewards for energy savings.”

To date, business and local government leaders controlling more than 12 million square feet of space have expressed a commitment to participate in Envision: Charlotte in an effort to reduce energy use by up to 20 percent and avoid approximately 220,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2016. The organizations include:

- Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte, and controls approximately 7 million square feet
- Wells Fargo, which has its eastern bank headquarters in Charlotte, and controls approximately 3 million square feet
- The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, which controls approximately 1.4 million square feet
- Duke Energy, which is headquartered in Charlotte, and controls 1.3 million square feet" More >

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sprint Coverage Changes

March 1st marks the end of Local or on-network Sprint coverage in ND, MT AND WY. We reported it a month ago and we have been seeking input from Sprint users as to their concern. The response has been predictable. Nobody wants to lose coverage, even if they never use it, but there appears to be very few people affected. I updated both the Sprint Voice/Text and 3G Coverage maps to show the new areas. AT&T will turn off the CDMA switch on those former Alltel sites that Sprint used as soon as everyone there has a nice new shiny GSM phone.

The big concern here is that the Sprint network itself, real or virtual, is no longer available in these areas, which means usage there will no longer be included in our plans. Current plans, like the "Everything" plans, apply to "on-network" calls only. Off-net calls and data will either come out of the extra bucket of minutes or be charged as roaming.

Fortunately, there is still coverage and some of it is 3G, ultimately provided by Verizon. So, for the few of us, and we found out there are very few, who travel to Casper, Bismarck or Missoula, the only things that change will be the location of the cell sites and maybe the amount we pay for service. The real loss for the rest of us is the warm fuzzy we got knowing that maybe, some day, we might go there.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The iPhone for a Penny!

With the excitement of Verizon getting the iPhone earlier this month, our position was "watch AT&T" for great deals. Well, here they come. AT&T now offers the iPhone for a Penny! These are 3GS, 8Gb refurbs with "cosmetic blemishes." Hey, it's a 'Scratch & Dent' sale!

We have been on the Android bandwagon partly because of the price of the iPhone, but that situation is changing. AT&T is also offering a number of other deals including Free phones, Free Overnight Shipping and Free Activations on new and additional lines of service.

If owning a new iPhone is anything like owning a new car, a 'Scratch & Dent' model gets you past the first apprehensive month. You won't be paranoid about dropping it.

On a related note, why is AT&T advertising 4G phones when they don't yet claim any 4G coverage? Is this a marketing effort to fool us, or or they just helping us get ready for their big 4G introduction next summer? Maybe they're working ahead to keep us from having to stand in those long lines? Gosh that's thoughtful.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Millions of Cell Sites

AT&T has been increasingly dependant on wi-fi to offload some of their data hogs from their cellular network. At the Mobile Summit in Spain, T-Mobile admits the same thing. T-Mobile initially established their HotSpot service to gain a marketing advantage with home cell-sites they could charge us for. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless were trying to grow their offerings with a "femtocell' (micro-sized cell sites) at a monthly fee. We were an early advocate of buying your own Femtocell without the monthly charge. My how things have changed.

Now instead of the carriers trying to 'help' you with better coverage, they're helping themselves by offering more handsets that can make calls whether you're on their cellular network or wi-fi, some can exchange each type of network seamlessly. To that end, AT&T has also been building more wi-fi hotspots. You might call this the 'iPhone Effect.' Too much data demand has actually given us more coverage, even if it's in our own home.

On a related note, Alcatel-Lucent introduced at the same conference a cell site and antenna the size and shape of a rubic's cube. The idea is cell sites no longer need to be on top of tall towers, they can be just above our head. How about "More bars in more bars!"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Curse of Doing Right

We wrote about 2 wireless companies recently, US Cellular and Cincinnati Bell, and how they deserve kudos for their customer-friendly behavior. We have long seen US Cellular as tops among larger carriers, and today they were awarded top ratings for customer service from JD Powers. I guess this is bad news, "No good deed goes unpunished."

In the days since, both carriers have reported fewer wireless customers. If this trend continues, only a few large carriers will survive, and that "few" could diminish to 2. In major markets where most of us live, we just can't patronize any small carriers. What could be the bigger problem is wireless users, living in markets where these great small companies do operate, preferred to jump aboard AT&T to get the iPhone or join Verizon Wireless, maybe for the same reason.

The small carriers depend on the Big 4 for nationwide roaming, and the little guys are having increasing trouble getting reasonable roaming rates from them. Can you see where this is going? Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love in Cincinnati

For Valentine's Day we thought we would share one of the wireless carriers that we really Love. Cincinnati Bell Wireless is doing almost all the right things to make them one of the top carriers in their corner of the world. From the southwest corner of Ohio (plus parts of Kentucky and Indiana) they're offering competitive plans, great prices on phones and innovative services.

At just over 500,000 wireless customers, Cincinnati Bell is just below the Top 10 of cellular carriers but they could move into Big 10 if any further consolidation occurred among the top carriers, or Alltel suffers some serious customer erosion. Cincy Bell is tied to the local wireline operator which gives them some serious advantages including communications bundles and wireline/wireless calling circles.

There was a time when we thought Cincinnati Bell would be absorbed into AT&T, but AT&T built their own network there so C-Bell either benefits or suffers from that separation. AT&T remains as a primary roaming partner outside of southeast Ohio, but not the only one. Those of us living outside of Ohio can only look with envy at the availability of such a competent operator, especially those of us who live within the 17-state territory of the former Qwest Wireless, a now-defunct wireline/wireless carrier that couldn't make a go of it with over a million customers.

There are a handful of other small carriers we Love, but Cincinnati Bell is the largest of the smallest, especially when you consider they have over a half-million customers all in one tiny corner of one state. It will be a sad day if they disappear, unless they combine with another small operator. How many here remember the original Bell Telephone?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Good News at Sprint

Sprint announced today that they added over 1 million new customers recently. I have been combing through all the data available and I can't find a clear reason why. In the words of CEO Dan Hesse, it's all about improving "the customer experience" and "reduced churn." With all the wireless buzz about the iPhone and Verizon vs. AT&T, it's hard to believe Sprint can make headway just by making customers happy. Something is making new people sign up and old customers stay.

I haven't found any clues in Sprint newsgroups or in their products. Can it really be that Sprint is growing by actually providing a better "customer experience" rather than dropping prices or improving the network? They must have some better 'retention' programs or customer service reps with better verbal skills. No matter...Go Dan, Go!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

US Cellular Makes US Smile

Last summer we moved US Cellular up to the top of the Mountain Wireless Ratings, and in October we cheered as they further improved the lot of the wireless consumer with their Belief Project. We just got around to reading the latest Consumer Reports to find they concur with our evaluation that US Cellular belongs at the top of the wireless charts. This time it's good news in Wisconsin.

US Cellular reports over a million of their customers have joined the Belief Project, a benefit program that provides earlier and better upgrades to their loyal customers including no contract obligation after the first period. What a gimmick! Good customer service!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter in Wisconsin

Not all dark clouds in the Badger State are caused by the weather. The takeover of the Alltel network by Element Mobile in Wisconsin has meant dark days for both some Element customers and the company itself. We reported the challenges in cheese country almost a month ago and the skies haven't cleared yet.

I spoke with Element's Director of Marketing, Dan Kowalke who expressed his concern and appreciation for all Element customers and admitted the process hasn't gone exactly as expected. I wanted to know how many affected users were able to make the transition without difficulties and he was unable to provide an exact number. To their credit, Element has tried several avenues to make amends that include account credits and additional support at Element stores. They also get kudos for keeping the door open for all customers, happy and unhappy, to add their views on Element's own Facebook page.

Mr. Kowalke reported that the transition from Alltel had been planned for a year and Element was proactive in providing new handset guidance to a certain number of their ex-Alltel users. Reading the Facebook wall it looks like they should have been proactive with a larger number of customers. Apparently, Element must address the issues of these wronged customers one at a time, instead of with system-wide updates.

Element has jumped out of the gate with several local promotions which will indeed help them stand out from the national carriers, and some of that work has resulted in new, and happy, customers. But if your phone or Text or Web access isn't working, it's hard to get a warm fuzzy about your wireless provider. Element may lose some business from this, and, as usual, we take the side of the consumers who aren't getting the service they're paying for. But we need more Element Mobile's in the country: local people who are keeping the Big Bad Wolf carriers from our door and are making wireless the locally-responsive business it should be.

If you gotta leave Element to get your service restored now, keep in mind that it'll be Element who, eventually, will be one of those keeping the rest of us from getting ripped off by Big Bad and his brothers. If we just didn't get the 'Element of surprise.'

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Data Roaming Brick Wall

We saw this day coming. With Verizon Wireless and AT&T sitting on all the marbles, they have no reason to let any of the other carriers play the game. While voice and text roaming agreements between smaller carriers and the Big 2 continue, such is not the case with data roaming. Recently T-Mobile has taken their case to the FCC that AT&T will not allow T-Mobile users to roam on AT&T's (upcoming) 3G network. AT&T says they are still "in negotiation," but T-Mobile says they're talking to the hand, and the hand ain't listening.

While the major carriers are required by law to provide roaming voice and text services, there is no such requirement for data. This leaves some big holes for smaller carriers like T-Mobile. We reported earlier this week on our Facebook Page that a very small GSM carrier in Bozeman, Montana, Big Sky Mobile, also could not come to a mutually-beneficial roaming agreement with either AT&T or it's Alltel predecessor. That means Big Sky can't have coverage outside of their home market anywhere in Montana, at least not without charging an arm and a leg.

T-Mobile has also considered the Sprint/Clear 4G network for roaming cooperation, but that deal looks like it won't proceed without some even bigger obligations (read: money). With data, we may not necessarily need to pair GSM carriers with GSM carriers. Including WIMAX or LTE in new wireless devices shouldn't be that much of a problem. What is a problem is that the Top 2 carriers really don't need to cooperate with the small guys.

Yes, the spectrum belongs to the public. And the public can use it, as long as we pay Verizon or AT&T to use it outside the metro areas. Now how much do we miss the old Alltel?