Friday, January 28, 2011

AT&T Back to #1

The latest customer numbers puts AT&T in the top spot among wireless carriers with over 95.5 million customers. Verizon reported increased numbers, but not as many, at only 94.1 million. It was just a couple weeks ago we started recommending AT&T as one of our networks of choice. Coincidence? Well, yes, because these are 4th quarter numbers.

While there may be some champagne corks popping at some AT&T offices somewhere, the investment community is not quite so excited. There are those who see AT&T about to tumble from their lofty heights and Verizon to jump up and over the 100 million customer mark. This expected switch in the lead is based on the impending arrival of the Apple iPhone to Verizon Wireless next month. There is a significant and passionate group of AT&T customers who can't wait to jump the AT&T ship and join the network with what they believe to have the better coverage. And Verizon will do what they can to make the transition easy.

AT&T has been quietly issuing a few "our network's better than theirs" notices, and there have been several articles published about the downsides of switching from AT&T to Verizon. Count us as among those who advise you to wait. But there's a group who just doesn't care...they want out.

Then there are those who were overjoyed to finally be able to get the iPhone after being converted from Alltel to AT&T, only to find the coverage not as good as it was with Alltel, primarily from the loss of Verizon (and all other CDMA carriers) as a roaming partner. For them, a Verizon iPhone may be the happier path to wireless nirvana.

So, let AT&T enjoy their #1 position. After all, it's easier to aim at a higher target.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Comparing 3G Coverage

I spent some time updating our 3G and 4G coverage maps this week. The biggest change is the coverage shown as "Future" 3G/Mobile Broadband for AT&T. It appears they will be able to throw the big switch around April 1st and all those new Alltel and Unicel sites will magically become 3G. AT&T also hints that it will be an equally easy switch to upgrade the whole 3G network to HSPA+/4G, later in the year.

I haven't found an updated Sprint 3G map mainly because their current 3G map shows "native" 3G service in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, which we're told will go away, right around the time AT&T speeds up similar areas to 3G. However, Sprint and their WIMAX partner Clear Wireless have added a handful of additional markets with 4G coverage. BillRadio has a new Clear site visible from his window near Denver that appears to be the next step in ignoring the "disguise" theme of the sites around it.

T-Mobile no longer shows 3G coverage. What have they got to hide? They do show expanded 4G coverage. Cricket and US Cellular no longer show their own 3G coverage and instead include on- and off-network 3G service. I have kept their older (and maybe still current) 3G maps to show what belongs to whom. Fortunately, the coverage may be transparent whether roaming or not. That's the way we like it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sprint Coverage Takes a Hit in the North

As we predicted over as year ago, Sprint customers will be among those who will lose coverage as a result of losing Alltel as a roaming partner. Sprint has announced that effective March 1, their customers will lose "native" coverage across North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. That coverage will be still available as "Roaming" coverage, which may or may not be included in your plan, and some of the your features will no longer work.

The Alltel-Sprint relationship was a good one which gave each network's customers good access to more features on the other's network than with other networks. It appears the relationship with Sprint's 'new' roaming partner (mostly Verizon Wireless) won't be so cozy. Also, with the transition of parts of the Alltel network from CDMA to AT&T's GSM may be even more of a problem. While Verizon has coverage in most of the old Alltel areas, it's, well, different. Murphy's Law says it will be different right where you want it.

Fortunately, this is a change that will affect a very small number of Sprint users. Even more far-reaching may be the relationship between Sprint and Verizon as those old Alltel roaming agreements expire. Part of Sprint's 'restructuring' now needs to include a few (alright a bunch) more cell sites across the US north. Maybe Commnet Wireless and their stable-mates the 'new' Alltel might come to the rescue in these areas. Yay, what's old is new again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leftover Prepaid Minutes? Do Some Good

Yesterday I said goodbye to some old friends: those minutes I purchased for my AT&T GoPhone last fall. It was sad to see them go, but I got them just for a post-Christmas trip to Mexico. I handed the phone to my nephew and told him to see if he can play with some expensive apps or something. He couldn't get it to work because the technology in the phone was too dated for him to figure out. So the minutes went away.

That bothered me, and I thought there must be others in the same situation who has no need for their leftover minutes. I was verbally abused by a family member that I could have given the money for those minutes to the Red Cross, or a number of other organizations. Now I felt even worse...until I found out my minutes hadn't expired yet. I always note the calendar a day early. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up and finding it was still Christmas Day...I hadn't missed it! I gave it all!

The most popular Text donation is $10 to "HAITI" at 90999, but even better is the Red Cross “2HELP” (24357) containing "GIVE", to donate $5 to their general Disaster Relief Fund. There are a bunch of other donation codes. Oh yes, you can spend it on a few other things like Ringtones and apps. Just don't leave those Leftovers on the table.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fun in Wisconsin

The transition of customers from Alltel to the new Element Mobile in central Wisconsin has been a rocky road. As an advocate of smaller carriers, we initially feel staying with Element is a good idea. However, if you're sitting there with no service on your phone, we can understand how difficult it is to stick with ideals.

We take our wireless service for granted and it's more than just an inconvenience when our phone doesn't ring or our data doesn't download...instead there's a hole in our life. The Alltel to AT&T conversions have gone much better, but they've been there/done that. Element is new to this.

The 'New' Alltel network and customer service is still being operated by Verizon Wireless, so there may be an unpleasant day of reckoning waiting for those customers, too. But we expect those things, if they don't happen, all the better.

Element is working through the problems and if they handle it well, their newly-inherited customers will eventually love them for it. If they don't do it quickly, we don't blame you for taking your dead phone elsewhere. Some competing carriers are taking advantage of the situation with promos like paying your ETF. However, don't cut your nose off to spite your face. Element may have the best coverage in the area, and you may be even more unhappy with the alternatives. It's kinda like a good spouse going through a bad need to keep the faith.

Now, about Element's higher-priced plans. We'll keep our old Alltel plans until Element fixes that, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Great Time to Join AT&T

The future looks great for AT&T customers. Verizon gets the iPhone and a few million data hogs disappear from the AT&T network freeing up bandwidth for the rest of us. If you're not an AT&T customer today, look for some really nice incentives next month to mitigate the effects of the Verizon iPhone hoopla. This is not an endorsement for the AT&T iPhone. It's a recommendation to consider the AT&T network with the device of your choice. This is a big change for us.

It's difficult to hold this position because we truly believe Verizon has the superior cellular network, and if you're planning to move up to 4G, Verizon is certainly your best choice. Verizon won't inherit AT&T's bad luck, but, if nothing else, data usage should even out across the two networks.

We haven't lost sight of the object of our 2 previous articles. The smaller wireless operators are still a safe haven from the mega-carrier attitude. The difference today is that any bad news for AT&T looks like good news for the wireless consumer. The exception may be for those customers who have been drooling at the idea of getting an iPhone in the ex-Alltel now AT&T areas of rural America. Your choices there can now be based on the superior network instead of a 'gotta have' phone.

Hopefully, the potential price (which means "Marketing") wars among the Big 2 don't hurt the smaller carriers. For those companies, 2 networks with lots of dropped calls would be the best news yet. I won't go there.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Can Revol Survive?

We're always digging for the gems in the wireless rock pile, often finding great service from the smallest carriers. One we have been watching is Revol Wireless, however they have not been one of those "gems". We have been hearing complaints about them and recently we found they just narrowly missed bankruptcy. So, we're aware not all small cellular carriers are the best choice, and with Revol we noted some of their limitations in our reviews.

In this case there may be hope. Our buds at Fierce Wireless noted that Revol and MobiPCS, the island-based Hawaiian carrier, have the same investors and CEO, so a merger of the two would be an easy fit. There are no reports of any merger discussions, but the CEO of Revol could easily negotiate with the CEO of MobiPCS in his sleep!

This kind of tie-up would be a positive move for wireless customers, but what a combination! Wireless in the Midwest paired with wireless in the Pacific? Consider the job of keeping the cell sites running. You could even come back to Ohio once in a while.