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.