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?


William said...

I'm already facing these problems in central Louisiana. Previously when traveling/visiting in the area, I was provided data roaming service by both At&t and Centennial (my carrier is T-Mobile). Now, all I have is voice/messaging service. At&t service is downright pitiful because there is almost no 3G in the area, and Verizon coverage is spotty there as well.

On the other hand, it is quite pleasant to not get constant e-mail alerts on my handset for a few days.

Oz Andrews said...

I wish I knew an easy answer. Even if AT&T and T-Mobile decided to play nice, there is the technical hurdle of T-Mobile's broadband network being at 2500 MHz where AT&T has little or no spectrum. The 6-band handsets may be needed sooner than we thought.

William said...

It really is absurd. I've got a six band phone now (4 GSM, 2 WCDMA), and the worst has yet to come. I don't see At&t playing nice with any carrier in this area. Verizon has gotten the word out that they are putting coverage all over Centennial's former area, and At&t is about to lose a lot of subscribers here.

This is quite off topic from the original thread, but is there any more news on MetroPCS/Cellular One offering coverage in the Alexandria, La area in the near future?

Oz Andrews said...

MetroPCS does not have spectrum in Alexandria but Cricket does. They just might build in La, but I expect them to build downstate, first. Cellular One doesn't have a lot of cash so don't expect them to build much. If I were unhappy with the GSM carriers there, I would switch to Verizon. They should upgrade their network at least to 3G soon, if they haven't already.

William said...

Bill, thank you for the clarification. I'm glad that we are finally going to get more competition in the area, and potentially more local based carriers as well. In my home parish (county), i've gotten word that Verizon is trying to purchase land to put towers up, and they will be putting up 3G as well. Nearly every person i've talked to here has told me they will switch to Verizon when their service goes live, and i'm to the point that I wonder if Verizon will have the same network issues At&t has here. I'm thinking there would almost be a role reversal in a sense. It's nuts. But that's Louisiana for you! Thank you again very much for the info!