Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You Already Paid for a New Phone

Are you closing in on the end of your wireless contract?  If you decide not to get a new phone on that 2 year anniversary, you're paying for it anyway!  Postpaid wireless subscribers pay a phone subsidy each month, in addition to paying for their network usage.  You might sit there and say 'Hah, I don't need a new phone, I'll show that wireless company and keep the old one.'  Yes, you no longer have a contract, but you're still paying for that old phone.

Recently, T-Mobile joined the ranks of wireless providers who charge for your phone and don't roll it into a monthly subsidy.  Prepaid phone services have charged for their new phones and users still save money with their lower monthly rates.  It seems hard to believe you can pay over $200 cash for a new smart phone and still save with a cheaper service from T-Mobile, Straight Talk or even TracFone.  Remember, switching doesn't mean you'll lose your phone number.

So, what about those of us who really don't want to get rid of our old phone but also don't want to keep paying for it month after month?  The best way is to switch to prepaid.  With an AT&T phone you can just replace the SIM.  With a Verizon Wireless phone you could switch to their own Prepaid Plans or one that uses Verizon phones, like Page Plus.  Or, you can just get the phone you're already paying for.  You won't save any money, but a 2-year-old phone is quite a relic.  If you didn't get one for Christmas, now the time, right?

The biggest gotcha is if you must also add a new, and much more expensive, data plan.  In that case, make the switch!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Straight Talk Road Trips

We have been roaming the SW US lately and have added Straight Talk (ST) to our phones. There are several options among ST services.  We chose the Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) plan.  Our trips have been from Denver to Dallas, Salt Lake City, Grand Canyon and Kansas City.

Generally, I can say that ST stays with your "Home" network and will not roam as long as you are within that network's service area. If, for example, your ST/AT&T phone gets no coverage in an urban area, it will not seek a roaming partner...they appear to be geographically restricted. When you are out of that carrier's coverage area, the normal TracFone roaming agreements apply. More specifically, when I lose coverage, like in rural Colorado east of Denver, my ST/AT&T SIM switches to Commnet Wireless and not to the usable T-Mobile signal.

In other locations, like the I-25-Colorado/New Mexico border and in Utah outside of Moab, the phone immediately picks up AT&T.  In other areas, an ST phone might switch more readily to the smaller local carrier, but will eventually return to the "Home" network as soon as the phone finds it. In these roaming areas data is Edge speed or higher. Most of these roaming variables are affected by the timing of inquiries by the phone.

The black hole on our trips is when GSM coverage is provided by Verizon on the ex-Alltel GSM sites, which will eventually go away. Hopefully, someone will fill these with new GSM coverage. It's the only places where I found no data available. The longest stretch is US 64 from Raton, NM to Dalhart, TX.

In northwest Texas off the Interstates, all GSM phones jump around quite a bit, roaming on AT&T more than others, but I will assume other roaming partners, include Verizon/ex-Alltel which provides a voice/text-only service. Data was really variable. The good news is that the "Home" networks are more built out each year.

On average, the ST phones give us coverage in all places. If you were to switch from a Verizon phone to a Straight Talk phone, you would still get your calls.  If you were to choose one of their single-network phones, the story is much different. Even with a ST/Verizon phone, the idea of being limited to one network is a concern.

We have added a complete report on all of the America Movil networks which includes Straight Talk, TracFone, Net10, SIMple Mobile and the new Telcel America.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Back From the Road

I disappeared for a few weeks as the family and I traveled across parts of the western US.  While I'm gone, Scott decided to jump on those of us who have chosen to go prepaid.  He says we're gonna lose coverage.  Well, most of what he says is true, but the coverage 'problem' is a bit overblown.

After our return from roaming across rural Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, I can say there are a few alternatives that will keep your from losing coverage when moving to prepaid.  The biggest surprise was the AT&T GoPhone.  When you lose AT&T coverage, that's roaming.  The T-Mobile prepaid phone was far more useful with almost as much off-network roaming available as T-Mobile postpaid plans.  We'll talk about CDMA-based phones later.

The real stars were the Straight Talk and Net10 'Bring Your Own Phone' plans that kept some kind of coverage virtually everywhere.  Like the AT&T and T-Mobile networks they are based on, Data coverage was best on the home network, but there were far more roaming possibilities on Straight Talk and T-Mobile.  Critics say the Straight Talk/Net10 coverage maps are too optimistic, but I found them spot on.  That's a good thing.

The low lights are that rural data networks are still hopelessly slow, and once our Straight Talk phone 'forgot' that it is supposed to roam on AT&T (a reboot fixed that).  Then there's the issue of GSM roaming on Verizon Wireless.  Yes, there are parts of the old Alltel GSM network still supported by Verizon.  There  is no Data and there's a end date for this coverage that needs to be addressed by the GSM community soon or there will be a loss of service.

We are putting together a full report on the TracFone, Straight Talk and Net10 coverage capabilities and how they may be a good choice for your conversion to cheaper prepaid service.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Go Prepaid & Lose Coverage?

I have been watching the process of BillRadio and a number of others who advocate switching to Prepaid wireless to save money.  What are you guys thinking?  This web site for years has been focused on getting the maximum cellular coverage and most moves to prepaid are taking a trip in the opposite direction!  Go from AT&T postpaid to GoPhone and you'll be cutting yourself off from coverage in thousands of locations.  Here in New Mexico, I spent almost as much time roaming on Commnet Wireless as I did on AT&T.  I didn't know what good service was until I switched to Alltel, and found even better service when I was transferred to Verizon Wireless.

I know that Bill Radio is making a reluctant move from Verizon to AT&T with the idea that doubling what he pays to Verizon just isn't worth it.  At least he found out T-Mobile won't cut it for him.  Bill and I agreed long ago that AT&T's Ratings belong below those of Sprint and a handful of other smaller carriers.  I believe there will come a day when he returns to admit his mistake. For years he has been claiming that AT&T's coverage ranks third, at best.

I understand that some of you east of the Mississippi wonder what I'm talking about.  AT&T in the west suffers from a whole lot of no coverage that was improved with the acquisition of some of those Alltel properties.  But if you switch to an AT&T prepaid plan, you're losing nearly the entire state of Nebraska, just to name one hole!  Who is willing to do that in this technology-dependant world?  Well, apparently anybody who is willing to give up their all-encompassing postpaid accounts that work almost everywhere in the US, including T-Mobile!  Yes, there are some exceptions and the TracFone family of services claim service in as many places, but a scan of various forums reveal complaints about their coverage as well.

Another group I haven't heard from are those who went with Sprint to gain unlimited data, but give up that service while roaming.  At least their phone can make calls while roaming, something GoPhone and some AT&T MVNO users can't do.  When I lost AT&T coverage right up the street from downtown Santa Fe, I gave thanks for the ability to roam on T-Mobile.  Yes, T-Mobile prepaid is a better choice there.  But, come on.  Are you willing to give up coverage?  Oh, you're saving money?  How's that working out for you?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

US Cellular Sells Chicago to Sprint

US Cellular is one of our top-rated networks.  One one hand it's sad to see them sell off spectrum and customers to Sprint in the Chicago to St. Louis territory, but it's also nice to see they're staying in the fight.  It would have been great to see US Cellular become a nationwide network but they just don't have the financial resources.

There's a lot to not like about the deal, especially if you're one of the millions who get sent over to the Sprint tent.  It could be the best thing to happen to the rest of the network.  US Cellular has a chance to survive for a bit longer and service could continue to get better.  US Cellular is still expanding 4G coverage and still treats customers better than the others.  Where US Cellular is good, they're very, very good.  In the affected areas they were not their best.  I believe they're lucky to find a buyer since Sprint doesn't really need the spectrum.

This is similar to the recent deal with Plateau Wireless in New Mexico who sold off a piece of their network to Verizon Wireless.  The idea is to create a better and stronger long as it isn't one of the Big 4. 

Those of us in the affected areas could do worse than Sprint.  Then there's the folks in the US Cellular home office in what?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Nobody's Perfect

I have been trying to switch to a full-time Smart phone, but I need to do it without the monthly charges breaking the bank.  It turns out, none of the top 4 carriers gets a perfect score with any Smart phone, mostly due to coverage dead spots.  Verizon doesn't work at the rec center.  AT&T drops out when researching at the library.  Sprint and T-Mobile signals both disappear behind the hill in our own neighborhood.  What's a guy to do?

In my case, Verizon wins at coverage but loses with too high of a price.  I can't justify doubling my cost just to add data.  T-Mobile and Sprint do very well with Data speeds but have dead spots for voice calls in critical locations (I was really pulling for T-Mobile!).  AT&T sits right the middle with Goldilocks coverage and data (not too good...not too bad).  The most important thing I learned is that data is a side interest and that voice calls are still most important.

The next step is deciding whether to work directly with AT&T or an AT&T re-seller.  The price difference is Straight Talk at $45 per month vs. AT&T GoPhone at $65 a month.  AT&T's data limit is 1Gb a month, Straight Talk's is more than double that, and there are almost 10 other alternatives that all use the AT&T network.  Price is not necessarily the most important point, but guess which one I'm trying first?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Plateau Wireless Lives On

Why can't they get this right?  Today, Verizon Wireless announced that they have "completed their purchase of Plateau Wireless".  The problem is only a PART of Plateau's network has been purchased and we were one of only a few news services that clarified the deal last Spring.  Plateau still maintains a wireless network in their previous coverage areas in New Mexico and west Texas, and will be making considerable improvements to that GSM network.

I spoke with Plateau's CEO Tom Phelps today to make sure that the deal hadn't changed.  He was also a bit miffed that most of the wireless press still can't get the story right.  Mr. Phelps also added that they were using the money from the Verizon transaction to upgrade their wireless network to 4G and adding fiber to their wired network.

We hate to see a small wireless company give up, but, in this case, Plateau made a creative move that will improve the wireless experience for many rural New Mexico and Texas cellular customers, whether they end up with Verizon or with a new and improved Plateau.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Your Mexico Vacation

Each year we update our Mexico wireless information, this year it's just ahead of the winter travel season.  We have so much new information we need list them:
  • MEXICO CELLULAR: This is our new entry point for all kinds of wireless information for Mexico travelers, including reviews on the Mexican wireless carriers.
  • USING YOUR US PHONE IN MEXICO: Can you just take your current phone with you?  Even more important: should you use that phone?
  • WIRELESS CALLING INSTRUCTIONS: We've tried to dig up all the oddities you might encounter when trying to make a wireless call in Mexico, and listed Helpful Tips.
  • ZOOMABLE MEXICO COVERAGE MAPS: We have added one of our most popular features of our Cellular Maps site for US carriers: Interactive Maps for Mexican carriers.
  • DATA ROAMING DANGERS!  There are horror stories of people just checking their email in Mexico and getting hundreds of dollars in data roaming charges!
Some of the Mexican wireless carriers have adopted US features like "Calling Circles" and Free Long Distance across Mexico and to the US.  These are things we have taken for granted here for years.  One of the disturbing trends is that T-Mobile and Sprint roaming charges are now approaching $2 a minute for calls within Mexico.  Shades of 1984!  GoPhone is still two bits (what's that?).

Have a good trip and email us with your wireless experiences.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Smart Phone Race

Go ahead, call it a 'Race to the Bottom'.  Our search for the best value in a Smart Phone plan is really a quest for the cheapest Smart Phone plan.  One of the decisions made early in the process was to go with a GSM phone primarily to take advantage of all the 'Bring Your Own Phone" opportunities.  After playing with the bargain-priced T-Mobile $30 for 5Gb/100 Minutes plan, I knew I needed a lot more minutes when I eventually converted to one main phone.

I was convinced that the best route was the SIMple Mobile $40 plan.  Then a friend told me about her weekend in rural Colorado.  You know, one of those areas where there's only Verizon and AT&T coverage.  Where would that leave a SIMple Mobile phone?  Unusable.  They do not claim any coverage off the T-Mobile network.  So much for the $40 plan.

The next move up in price is Straight Talk at $45.  They claim their GSM coverage is the same whether you put their SIM in an AT&T or T-Mobile phone, locked or unlocked.  After reading posts from Straight Talk users, it appears the ones who use an AT&T phone get "throttled" after using more than 2 to 3Gb a month, while users with T-Mobile phones don't have similar complaints.  We'll make our decision soon and report on the results.

As a disclaimer, I notice there are numerous ads for Straight Talk service across our web sites.  We are not compensated for reporting on or leaning toward that service.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

T-Mobile's Next Phase

Updated to reflect the MetroPCS/T-Mobile merger is confirmed.

Just after I decided to join T-Mobile for most, if not someday all, of our wireless needs, T-Mobile finalized a spectrum swap with Cricket Wireless.  Then came the news that T-Mobile will merge with Metro PCS.  This may be an easily-approved combination and we're trying to see how it feels from a consumer viewpoint.   With incompatible CDMA vs. GSM technologies, there are a few hurdles to overcome.  Both companies do have a long-term goal to embrace LTE technology.  MetroPCS already uses VoIP so synergies are already possible. We must not overlook the incompatibilities of the networks.  As with the purchase of Nextel by Sprint, the technology problems may never be solved without big losses of money or customers.

For the short term, there should be no need for wholesale handset conversion, it could evolve as users decide to change their needs.  The bigger question is how much the loss of a competitor affects the overall market.  MetroPCS is not available in many US markets, but it serves a number of the largest cities.  This means a loss of competition in the nation's biggest cities but it increases the wireless capacity for the number four network, right where we need it most.

A larger T-Mobile may make it even more difficult for the next largest carrier, Cricket, to survive, forcing them toward another suitor, potentially Sprint.  Sprint came within a whisker of buying MetroPCS.  That means Sprint may still be in the market for the spectrum and customers that Cricket could bring to the table, and woop, another competitor disappears.  Don't overlook the possibility that Cricket could also still join the T-Metro party.

A few years ago we were appalled at the idea of only 5 or 6 national wireless carriers, now we're desperate to keep 4!  We thought the best idea was a MetroPCS-Cricket combination.  Now we're cheerleading to keep T-Mobile and Sprint alive.  It's our own form of Long-Term Evolution!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

T-Mobile Wins The Smart Phone Race...for Now

After a false start, I finally landed in the Smart phone arena armed with lots of knowledge about data plans.  The idea was to add a data to our wireless arsenal, without a contract, with hopes that it may some day become the "one and only," and yet not end up doubling our monthly wireless bill.

As with so many users, the "ideal" collection of features, cost and deal-killers are very personal.  For example, my top concerns were price and mobile email.   Yours may be staying in touch with Facebook or YouTube.  What they all have in common is data and what you pay for it.  Until a few weeks ago the best value for that data was the SIMple Mobile $40 Unlimited plan that comes on a SIM and accesses the T-Mobile network.  There are others, but this was our best choice.  SIMple Mobile only provides the SIM, you need to bring your own T-Mobile-compatible phone, unlocked GSM device, or they'll help you find one linked from their web site.  The $40 plan gives you 3G coverage, which is probably more than good enough for most of us.

Since then I discovered T-Mobile's own generous non-contract $30 plan which gives you 5Gb of 4G data per month (really 30 days), Unlimited Texts, but only 100 minutes of Voice calls.  That's perfect for a 'data-only' phone, but most of us use more than 100 minutes a month.  This is where people start looking at the likes of Google Voice, Vonage and a bunch of apps that help you bypass the regular carriers' "minutes."  This $30/5Gb plan has a curious twist, voice overages are only .10 per minute.  This puts you on a semi-'pay-as-you-go' basis which might make wireless data charges a far easier pill to swallow.  Once those overages hit an additional $10, though, you'll be wishing for the SIMple Mobile plan.  Like always, "Do the math."

If you're interested in the T-Mobile $30 data/text/100 minute plan there are some restrictions, but they're workable.  The most important is that it is for new plans only but that may only mean a new SIM, which may also mean a new phone number, but there are ways around that, too.

Then there's the latest news about who might own T-Mobile, look for that in our next article.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Smart Phone: All or Nothing?

We're almost embarrassed to admit our latest project has consumed the better part of this month.  We're looking for the best value (cheapest?) in a Smart phone and data plan.  The process has been daunting, including waiting for a phone that turns out to have been shipped directly from China.  I'm going ahead and publishing where we stood last week:

We found that the cheapest way to make that step up is to pay an additional amount of $25 per month, minimum.  That's a huge increase for those of us who look for ways to save $5 to $10 a month by shuffling plans or changing carriers.

To do this on the cheap we had to find a Smart phone with 2-year old technology and a Prepaid plan that allow us to pay for broadband by the day, and not use it very many days.  Is there a better, or cheaper, way?  If you're often within accessible wi-fi coverage, most wi-fi capable smart phones will work through broadband and can make calls without an assigned calling account.  With a prepaid calling account, Voice & Text can be had for just a few bucks per month.  If you can limit your new Smart phone's web access to wi-fi, you can do it cheap.  Pay by the day broadband plans are the next step up for $2 or $3 a day, depending on your speed, from 2G to 4G.

Today, the best plan seems to be from SIMple Mobile for $40 per month, using the T-Mobile network.  However, that is best used when you bring your own GSM phone.  If you want a nicer or newer phone, the math changes substantially, based on the fact that most carriers will give you a new phone if you agree to pay a stiff fee for the next 2 years.  We're afraid this project has no clear end, so I'll call it a work in progress.

If you've read this far, be amused with the fact that I had to send that phone from China back as being defective.  Back to square 1.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

T-Mobile Acts Like They Mean It

T-Mobile has made some substantial moves recently that makes them a really attractive place for your wireless business.  Here are some highlights:
  • They gained a significant amount of cash and spectrum from the failed AT&T takeover.  This helps expand T-Mobile coverage, especially broadband.
  • They started to "re-farm" their spectrum to offer LTE broadband at 1700 MHz, and HSPA+ (their form of '4G') on their current 1900 MHz channels, making their higher speed services available to existing iPhones.
  • They now offer Unlimited broadband for Smart phones, not available at any price on other carriers.  T-Mobile's price can be as low as $30.
  • They now encourage people to bring their unlocked iPhone directly to the T-Mobile store for immediate activation on the T-Mobile network.
  • They have hinted at soon selling their own iPhone.
  • The FCC gave T-Mobile permission to test the 1755-1780 MHz band for sharing with existing users to see if wireless service is compatible before all old users are required to move.
  • They now offer new broadband (USB modem) plans, some are now more generous.
  • They have signed up some new MVNO companies (resellers) indicating a new confidence in the continued operation of their network.
There are also some low lights, mostly with Prepaid:
  • They have discontinued their unlimited prepaid text plan at $15 per month.
  • They have increased the price of the 2nd tier of their prepaid plans from $25 to $30.
There's a lot to like about T-Mobile, some of those things include what they have not done, like mess with Gold Rewards.  Our problem is which phone to choose as we become even more serious T-Mobile users.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mobilz Becomes Cross Wireless

The Cross Telephone Company in eastern Oklahoma may have gotten a little too creative with their wireless service when they rolled out "Mobilz".  When you're a tiny rural phone operation, your wireless arm needs to support, not distract from, the main wireline/DSL/TV operation. So Cross wisely renamed their service to "Cross Wireless".  The cellular operation is small enough that when we call the helpful people there they have no idea that we are not seeking information about their wireless home Internet service.

Not to further confuse things, Cross also owns Sprocket Wireless which serves the area "a little farther out" from the Cross Wireless coverage area.  While Sprocket is a slightly more familiar name in that area east of Tulsa, it would be smart to further consolidate to just one name for their cellular operations.  The main reason to do so in larger markets is to get more bang for your marketing money, but in the smallest markets, there just might not be any.

In New Mexico, Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative changed their cellular service to "NMobile", due to confusion over the "Leaco" name being limited to Lea County.  In central Texas, Mid-Tex Wireless finally assigned their acquired Five Star Wireless name to their wireless Internet service instead of having cellular stores with different names.  However. they also offer prepaid service under the Right Wireless name, so they still found a way to diffuse their marketing efforts.  At least in Oklahoma, consolidation makes sense without losing any more wireless carriers.

Friday, August 10, 2012

T-Mobile's Thousands of Cell Sites

The T-Mobile motorcycle spokesgal has traded her blurring speed in the city for a blurring view of T-Mobile's cell sites.  Indeed, T-Mobile does have a large number of cell sites, part of which was necessitated by their shorter range PCS signals.  However, they have gone one step further and placed a few strategic cell sites in areas ignored by other carriers.  Even the king of covering undercovered areas, Commnet Wireless, has a way to go to match some of T-Mobile's surprise cell sites. 

In my home state of Colorado there are wide stretches of National Forest lands that forbid cell sites either by federal decree or a lack of infrastructure.  However, there always seems to be some kind of RF facility on a mountain peak that begs the question, "Why not here?"  T-Mobile has climbed those mountains where other carriers fear to tread, and has made us huge fans.  There was a time when it took Verizon's extensive network AND its roaming partners to give us the confidence of universal coverage.  Now they seem to be only adding sites where it makes economic sense.  T-Mobile's surprise sites actually has us stopping and scratching our heads.  Not a single home or factory is within coverage of these sites...they are are here only to serve the traveling public.  What a concept!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rating the Small Carriers

As we try to be the champion of the smaller wireless carriers, we have decided to venture onto what may be rather thin ice.  For years we have Rated the top 10 wireless carriers (which has now dwindled to 8) with a numbering system that reflects how well these carriers best fulfill what we believe are our wireless needs.  In past cases our ratings have irritated a few fan boys, but overall, we find people agree with our observations.

Now, as part of our regular review of every wireless carrier in the nation, we have assigned an "MW Rating", a numeric value we will apply as we make our periodic update on each of these carriers.  Using a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, we decided there has to be carriers that rate a "1", and ones that rate a "10".  The absolute number reflects that "X" carrier is better than "Y" our informed opinion.   Over the years we have received complaints about our Reviews, so we expect the number we assign to some of these carriers will once again raise the rankles of those associated with these victims.

Often our view is skewed by incomplete or dated data and that view changes when we are supplied with the right information.  To assign a single number that takes so many different attributes into consideration is a close approximation at best.  We can make a better guess about carriers we are familiar with, and we realize giving a "6" rating to AT&T will be unpopular.  We are still getting stories about AT&T's poor urban coverage, as they continue to suffer through a lack of capacity in major cities.  Even JD Power agrees that Sprint (MW Rating: 7) rates higher than AT&T (MW Rating: 6).  Now we'll also try to compare the best, like Cincinnati Bell (MW Rating: 10) to the Wisconsin's Element Mobile (MW Rating: 3).  Agreed?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wall Street Holds the Phone

Earlier this week, Sprint reported that their business is alive and well and can handle the challenges ahead, not the least of which is the turn down of the Nextel network and the turn up of a new LTE broadband network.  There was a time when it looked like there would be only 2 major carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless.  The chances are much better today that it won't happen.  The question now is whether it will be 4 or 3 carriers who survive.

T-Mobile has a few warm fuzzies from the failed AT&T takeover in the form of cash and more roaming agreements, but they lost what Wall Street calls "momentum."  T-Mobile has a handful of hoops to jump through including getting Apple to add T-Mobile's 4G band at 1700 MHz to the iPhone.  Their future lies on bottom line growth and that may be hard to improve.  Yes, this means T-Mobile may still face a new merger or takeover.

Some marriages involve awfully long courtships.  Cricket and MetroPCS have been dating for a long time but just can't commit.  T-Mobile's list of desirable partners is even shorter, and the best looking man on that list is Sprint.  At one time it might have been China Mobile or America Movil, the parent of TracFone, or maybe some good looker from Europe.  But each suitor now looks a bit less desirable mostly due to their lack of pocket change.  For now, that's a good thing for most of us.  The FCC calls T-Mobile a "disrupter" and credits them with creating greater competition in the wireless market.  They should be able to continue that role until Wall Street tells them they must marry up or suffer 'old maid' status.  So far, I still like the old maid, and the motorcycle she rode in on.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Prepaid Double Trouble

We have been following the Prepaid market closely over the last year as a great way make a significant cut in your wireless expenses.  Several of the latest prepaid offerings have been very useful since each of the 4 major cellular networks offer virtually nationwide service without the need for roaming.  A few prepaid services do allow roaming off their home network which gives you even greater coverage.  The catch is that when a carrier charges extra for roaming, the calling procedure may change.

Old hands at the prepaid game have learned the secret, but a few newcomers have sent us an email saying, "Why doesn't my prepaid phone work in Kentucky (or pick your location)?"  But it does!  You just need to enter the called phone number a second time.  A pain? Yes, but it's the carrier's way to make sure you know there will be extra charges.  The best workaround is to enter a second roaming version of your most frequently called numbers, with a "Pause" programmed in the string, into your address book.  Otherwise, if you don't know the number called by heart, you need to look at the screen and enter the number you just called again or, heaven help you, write that number down on the back of your hand (who carries a pen?).

If you have service but just can't enter the extra digits, try Text Messaging which normally works with just one entry.  It's that or switch to one of the prepaid services that doesn't require the 'double dial' such as TracFone, NET10 or T-Mobile.  Of course you could have one of those services that doesn't allow off-network roaming and you can merrily travel along in blissful ignorance.

Friday, July 6, 2012

iPhone: Past its iPeak?

We were excited recently about the prospect of a prepaid iPhone and we prepared for what we thought was a new rush of interest in the 5-year-old phone icon.  We even put together a special web page for all the ways to Go Prepaid with iPhoneVirgin Mobile, who boasts of very reasonable iPhone plans starting at $35 a month, even opened their first Virgin Mobile-branded retail stores to herald the coming of the iPhone to the prepaid carrier.  The reaction was not what they expected.  Cricket Wireless offered their own iPhone with less than door-busting response.

Does this mean the iPhone is past its prime or is it just not of interest to the prepaid crowd?  Prepaid is no longer the providence of the credit-challenged.  Many prepaid buyers are now either value shoppers or users looking for a wireless alternative without a 2-year obligation.  AT&T now offers the iPhone for as little as a penny, so we'll assume that it isn't the price.  In technology, 5 years is a lifetime.  Apple may need to come up with something new or we might see somebody else pass the Tipping Point and create the new iNormal.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Preparing for the Unthinkable

We have neighbors just a few miles away from where I sit who have lost their homes to forest fires. In one city alone over 32,000 people have had to evacuate.  How did they know when to leave?  They were called, mostly by Reverse 911.  Considering that an average of 25% of the population have no home phone, what about those who have no wired phone at home?  AFAIK, they only way those occupants knew officially to pack up and leave was if they registered their wireless phone to that home address with the local 911 authority.  Have you done that?

I also watched as a cell tower on one of those mountain ridges was consumed in flames and wondered what happens to those people who have not yet evacuated?  What would you do if the cell site you needed was gone?  Just a few years ago, the local telco would set up banks of phones and give residents free voice mail to stay in touch.  Telcos can't do that for wireless-only users...we're on our own.

Think it through.  What would you do?  Would you include your cell phone among those possessions you'd grab when you run?  Think of the unthinkable: floods, wildfires, earthquakes, or even an nuclear or chemical accident.  Did you 'cut the cord?'  Maybe you'd rather not.  Consider how you'll be affected when the only warning comes from a Reverse 911.  I thought our family was covered with our basic landline until I realized we 'ported' our number from another area and we received an evacation notice from that faraway area.  Are we missing things that are happening in our own neighborhood?

You might not need to "do" something to be prepared, but you should at least consider, 'what would happen if...'  The unthinkable just happened here...are you next?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

International Roaming Habits

I have been roaming outside the US several times in the last few weeks and have found one essential habit that keeps me in wireless contact: re-booting my phone.  No single habit seems to affect the cellular roaming experience, and it appears to apply only to my GSM phones.  I'm told that when the phone loses signal, it continues down the registry of usable signals and, finding none, returns to rest on the home carrier's channels.  Until I discovered this I thought that the local wireless network always had some kind of problem, but instead it was the phone.  In foreign systems, there are plenty of opportunities to lose the signal, even if it's just between the balcony and the bedroom at your hotel.

Of all the precautions we list on our Foreign Roaming web pages, this was one we hadn't thought of until we stayed in rooms with consistently bad service in the room, but good coverage elsewhere.  Many hotels have the same problem with wi-fi which rarely penetrates the walls equally.  I give credit to the resorts who offer a wired Internet connection, but some of those, believe it or not, have slower service than the wireless.

On your next trip to Mexico, or elsewhere, blame your phone first, then re-boot.  Foreign networks are just as reliable as we hoped, but we need to teach our phones some manners.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Prepaid Favorites

The month of June has been a trial of testing Prepaid services.  For several years we had been an advocate of T-Mobile Prepaid due to it's low refill requirements, especially the 1-year refill.  Over the past year they have been reducing the benefits available, especially the access to T-Zones.  Although T-Zones was free, we would have been willing to pay for these features on a per-use basis, but that's not available on pay-as-you-go plans.  The best they can do is the $30 per month or $2 per day plans.

This is what has caused us to search for a better idea.  Obviously we are not big data users so any big or Unlimited data plan is wasted on us.  So we were surprised to find that our AT&T GoPhone was supplying just what we wanted:  low-cost Voice & Text, with Data sold by the kB.  The fact that this phone works in Mexico and Canada is an added plus.  The downside is that unless you refill $100 at a time, refills come up every 90 days.  There may be a solution to that on the horizon (automatic 90-day refills?).

Oddly, this may mean we may port our T-Mobile numbers back to AT&T!  There are also some competitive fires lighting up with Prepaid such as the Virgin Mobile iPhone and the Straight Talk and NET10 Unlimited SIM's.  While we might think that Prepaid has come of age, remember it's the norm in most of the world.  Nice to be more wordly, eh?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We're Going "Wireless"

By now you should have noticed we have changed our name to "Wireless Noise".  It's the web URL we wanted a few years ago and it finally became available.  The term "cellular" is so 80's, and it's fading from favor. "Wireless" is more relevant to the spectrum of discussion here.  Wi-fi and similar technologies are indeed not cellular.

While "Mobile" has become the norm in other countries, "Wireless" is how we talk here.  We mention it today because soon we will change our URL to, which means many of the links to specific articles on this site won't work, and you'll eventually need to change your Favorites and Bookmarks.  Hopefully we won't lose any friends or visitors. You know, it's all about being connected... wirelessly... right?

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Cheapest Broadband Stick

Our use of cellular broadband is mostly by tethered air card.  Wi-fi fulfills almost all of our mobile wireless needs but there are several times in the year where we need to resort to a cellular air card.  Looking for the cheapest broadband access without a contract yielded few options.  Over the years I stuck with my T-Mobile Rocket USB Stick and was relatively happy with buying 1Gb of data for $30 for a month.  As usual, I keep looking for a cheaper way to get my wireless features.  I looked at SIMple Mobile who offers 750 Mb at $25 and Virgin Mobile's 500 Mb at $20 for monthly access.  Yes, there are other prepaid choices, but I refuse to buy less than a month's worth of access and most prepaid carriers charge much more.

This weekend T-Mobile will start offering new prepaid broadband plan prices that make their service a bit more appealing.  While they have increased their bottom plan from $10 to $15, and now for 300 Mb of data instead of 100 Mb, it's the middle tiers that make us happy.  They now offer 1.5 Gb of data for $25 and 3.5 Gb of data for $35.  The $50/5 Gb plan stays the same.  These prices are good for other broadband device users and normally, T-Mobile delivers at or near 4G speeds.  Oh yes, we can also get Discounted T-Mobile Refills!

In the big picture, T-Mobile could have rocked the wireless world with even better prices...even AT&T offers a $5/50 Mb plan.  But for those of us who live in the Prepaid world, even a small price reduction makes us smile, and indeed willing to use our 'sticks a little more, and maybe our other broadband phones as well.  It's a crumb, but I'll take it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Prepaid Updates

This past week we (OK, mostly I) have been completely updating our Wireless By the Minute web site that helps you switch from cellular that requires a 2-year contract to Pay-As-You-Go, or Prepaid.  The larger wireless carriers are becoming more competitive with their Prepaid offerings and we try to keep track of what you can do with your existing wireless phone.

One of our new areas of interest is how to Switch your iPhone to Prepaid which has become much easier now that AT&T will provide the unlock code for your iPhone after your 2-year contract.  AT&T will also let you convert to their own Prepaid GoPhone as well. The conversion involves just putting in a new Micro-SIM into your iPhone to utilize a Prepaid, and often cheaper and still 'Unlimited', wireless provider.  We found almost a half-dozen prepaid providers that will support your iPhone, most of which use the same AT&T network. 

One of the these Prepaid services is SIMple Mobile, a SIM-only provider that does NOT use the AT&T network.  They re-sell service on T-Mobile which is excellent, but it is not compatible with the broadband features of the iPhone.  It works, slowly.  This week American Movil, the owner of TracFone and a few other Prepaid services, announced they are buying SIMple Mobile.  This may introduce a new wrinkle in the Prepaid game, but we can't exactly figure out how since American Movil already offers SIM's through NET10 and Straight Talk.  Well, the more the merrier.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Alltel & Commnet: Alive & Well

Atlantic Tele-Network (ATNI), the owners of Alltel Wireless and Commnet Wireless released a fairly rosy financial report for the 1st quarter of 2012.  ATNI reports some growth but they are more pleased with the reduction in the rate of losing customers. They show growth in the Prepaid segment but they don't report how much is attributed to Alltel or the new Choice Wireless. This strength in the prepaid area should be bolstered by their new plan to offer the "U" Prepaid in cooperation with US Cellular at Wal-Mart stores in each carrier's local coverage areas.

One of the brightest spots is in the "wholesale" branch which is primarily operated by Commnet Wireless but also should include roamers on the Alltel network.  While Commnet was forced to reduce some of their incoming roaming rates, they benefit from the increase of data usage in all of the ATNI Coverage areas.  ATNI also has wireless operation in the Caribbean.

This means, for the time being, ATNI, Alltel, Commnet and Choice should be able to survive as an independent cellular company, and Wall Street agrees by bidding up the company's stock. One of the company's 'secrets' is that they have gone from being a thorn in the side of the national carriers, to an operating partner, including 'filling in' coverage in areas where other carriers fear to tread.

If they can make the money-work, so can the net-work.

Monday, April 30, 2012

US Cellular & Alltel Hook Up

US Cellular and Alltel have agreed to cooperate with the distribution of the "U" Prepaid service.  While this link up makes great business sense, it may also indicate the beginning of a more extensive relationship between two Top 10 wireless carriers.  Two wireless carriers with virtually no geographic overlap, compatible CDMA technology and a strong incentive to expand their operational area...what more could we ask for?

While this action should start the rumor mill, there have been a number of more serious combinations that just didn't happen: AT&T/T-Mobile, MetroPCS/Sprint, Cricket/MetroPCS.  So don't think this really needs to go farther than the "U"-turn it really is:  the evolution of what was once a very economical Prepaid wireless service.  One more, we might add, being marketed by Wal-Mart.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Too Many Carriers?

We're not saying there are too many wireless carriers in the US, we're saying there are more than we expected there would be at this time.  Several years ago we established a web page that listed all of the cellular carriers we review.  The list was a bit long but we figured it would slowly get shorter.  We were wrong. That's a good thing.

We discovered more carriers over time and, even though we lost some wireless names, we gained a few, too.  This meant that our idea of listing them all on one page just didn't work.  We recently divided the list into 5 bite-sized pieces with roughly 20 carriers per page.  This doesn't really affect the content of these pages, but they are now easier to read, and there's room to list all the carriers.  You might need to decide what letter of the alphabet you're looking for, but we've made it easy to jump from page to page, and you can still go from A to Z by clicking at the bottom of each page.

The primary benefit of working on these reports is that it keeps us up to date with these 100 or so carriers across the country.  It's how we found that Simmetry Wireless threw in the towel and that GCI Wireless in Alaska bought two of their competitors.  It would be a sad day if we eventually need fit all of the carriers on one short web page.  We're still supporting our ABC's.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Element Mobile Pays Up

We thought the bad news about Element Mobile had settled down a year ago, but it seems they angered enough customers to get the wheels of government to act.  Bad service wasn't enough, Element sent the affected customers to bill collectors and dinged everybody's credit report.  Such heavy-handed actions don't sit well with us and we think Element got off easy.

MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) - A Wisconsin Rapids cell phone provider has agreed to repay customers who complained about service coverage and early termination fees.
Element Mobile will pay $248,000 under a settlement announced Wednesday by the state consumer protection department.
“Element Mobile had a rocky start, but we hope this settlement allows the company to move forward, become a strong Wisconsin business, and provide quality services to its customers," said Sandy Chalmers, the state's trade and consumer protection division administrator.
The state recorded 671 complaints against Element Mobile in 2011. Most of the complaints came between January and March of last year after Element took over service from Verizon, which had bought Alltel Wireless but abandoned the area.
“Element Mobile regrets any problems incurred by customers during the switchover period,” said Element chief operations officer Jerry Wilke. “We worked with the state to make sure anyone deserving reimbursement receives it.”
Element will repay or waive fees for customers who paid an early termination fee or who experienced service outages or interruptions. Element has also agreed to stop collection efforts on unpaid customers' bills it had sent to collection agencies. The company will also contact the nation's three credit reporting bureaus to have any negative credit information removed from customers' credit reports.
The state will contact affected customers within a few weeks with questionnaires to figure out how much they may be owed. Within four months of submitting the questionnaire, eligible consumers will receive releases from Element Mobile. These releases must be returned within 30 days in order to receive the adjustment.
Wilke says Element has since invested in new towers and equipment to improve coverage and signal quality and created a customer service management system to ensure higher service quality.

Source: WSAU Radio

Monday, April 16, 2012

Simmetry Wireless Goes Away

Simmetry Wireless in western Illinois has decided to give up the wireless business. Symmetry is part of the Adams Telephone Co-op of Golden, IL and they have decided to sell most of their network assets to US Cellular. However, since Simmetry GSM phones won't work on the CDMA US Cellular network, customers will not transfer over, their phone will just stop working on June 30, 2012.

With US Cellular hopefully taking over most Simmetry sites, switching (and porting) to US Cellular will probably give you the most familiar coverage. Simmetry was well-priced for local customers but was overpriced for those who wandered farther from home. Symmetry claims their customers will receive a beneficial offer from US Cellular, one of our top-rated carriers.

Sadly, this is part of a trend in the wireless division of an increasing number of local telephone co-ops. The wireless operation becomes too expensive to run, the co-op is too small to absorb these losses, and there are too few customers to transfer over to another carrier. We saw this one coming and there are others right behind them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

iPhone Comings & Goings

AT&T will now allow their customers to "unlock" their iPhones (as they do with other models) after you have competed your 2-year obligation. You can Go to another wireless supplier, possibly staying on the AT&T network!

Coming #1:
With your newly unlocked AT&T iPhone, NET10 Wireless and StraightTalk invite you to get one of their nifty GSM SIM's to take advantage of their all-you-can-eat Talk, Text, and yes, Data plans, without a contract, and in some cases, on the same AT&T network.

Coming #2:
T-Mobile says 'Come On Over,' they're ready, willing and able to welcome all those AT&T customers bringing over their iPhone to take advantage of their more consumer-friendly plans, and possibly less-congested network.

Coming #3:
The iPhone is Coming to the networks of some smaller carriers: GCI Wireless in Alaska, Cellcom in Wisconsin and C Spire Wireless of Alabama and the South. In most cases it will be offered at a reasonable price.

Coming #4:
Straight Talk is expanding the Unlimited universe with their newest plan that includes Unlimited Talk, Text and Data to all of the US and now Mexico. You can buy a new StraightTalk phone or Come over with your AT&T iPhone, or any other unlocked GSM phone.

Right when we thought the Unlimited plans were going away, out Comes more. Let's Go...iPhone or no.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Viaero Adds 4G

Viaero Wireless, serving rural areas of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, has jumped from 2G directly to 4G. Viaero operates a nicely developed network and has added 4G to their sites across southern Colorado with more 4G promised soon. Viaero serves a number of customers who use the network for both their mobile activities and their home phone. This now brings these users a great alternative for broadband at home.

We give the Viaero network high marks for a well-designed system, although some of their customers respond in this forum to question their customer service behavior. We appreciate the fact that they focus on markets that other carriers give only casual attention.

Friday, March 16, 2012

One Less Cellular One

Verizon Wireless has snarfed up Cellular One of Northeast Pennsylvania. We wondered how long this carrier serving 2 counties of the Keystone state could survive, but it was a surprise to us that they were owned by US Cellular. So this one goes as a loss of beachfront property for US Cellular.

JD Power just awarded US Cellular with more customer satisfaction kudos, but they still seem to be swimming upstream. The folks along the Delaware River should see better service outside their home market but the local network already provided good coverage. We're not crying over this transaction, but 'it's the principle of the thing...'

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

4G For Your iPad

The New iPad comes with 4G wireless access which is a very useful feature, unless you don't have AT&T or Verizon 4G service nearby. For the time being, that is a big limitation and without that coverage, you're stuck on wi-fi.

We could bash or brag about the new iPad model, but instead we'll try to help you through the decision-making process. We updated our 4G Coverage Comparison Maps which currently shows Verizon as the winner of the 4G horse race. AT&T has announced new 4G areas coming soon, so there may be additional AT&T 4G coverage by the time you take delivery on your slick New iPad.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

MetroPCS Cheats on Cricket

Sprint came within a whisker of acquiring MetroPCS last weekend. We can talk about the one that got away, but we wonder even more what the future now looks like for Cricket. Many of us thought MetroPCS and Cricket were partners just made for each other, and they have complimentary networks. Where one has spectrum, the other doesn't, they both use CDMA, and they have a similar prepaid business model.

So now we know MetroPCS would rather cavort with the likes of Sprint, what's to become of Cricket? The Top 2 probably can't take over such a large network, so you need to follow the money...but it looks like nobody has any. Unless a outside suitor like Dish comes forward, it looks more than ever like MetroPCS and Cricket will need to shack up and at least take advantages of what synergies they can. We may have a couple that just can't get along, but it's what happens when you're left crying at the alter.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Plateau Transaction Clarified

As we reported, Verizon is purchasing a portion of Plateau Wireless of New Mexico, but the sale will not affect Plateau customers in Curry, Roosevelt or Quay counties. Plateau CEO Tom Phelps said Saturday that Verizon is purchasing the southeast New Mexico quadrant, which includes portions of Roswell, Carlsbad, Artesia, and Hobbs and Ruidoso. Wireless infrastructure in Eddy, Chaves and Lea counties are part of the purchase. Additionally, the wireless communications network in part of Lincoln County is included.

Phelps said the sale won’t affect customers in Clovis, Portales, Tucumcari or portions of west Texas. Phelps said selling a piece of the business gives Plateau more cash to invest in upgrading services such as high-speed wireless. The purchase includes Plateau Wireless' Cellular customers, and related operations just in the southeastern New Mexico market.

Some wireless users in the remaining Plateau areas wondered if they will still have wireless service in the affected areas since they have incompatible technology. There has been no announcement yet about whether or how long GSM service will be maintained. The subject may be addressed by the FCC, whose approval is expected this summer. How long can an even smaller Plateau survive?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Plateau Wireless Gives Up!

It's understandable when a small wireless carrier sells out to one the Big 4, but it's troubling when it happens to the wireless arm of a rural wireline co-op. They're the ones who are supposed to operate with the best interests of their members. Today, Plateau Wireless of New Mexico agreed to sell their cellular network and customers to Verizon Wireless. It really is the new economic reality for small telecoms, but it seems so short-sighted. The future is wireless, and now it looks like Plateau has mortgaged away their future. Those wireless channels could have been used for more than just phone calls. No matter. Money talks.

The good news is that life will probably get better for Plateau customers. While Plateau offers a wide variety of plans, most of them are overpriced. When Verizon takes over, everybody gets a new CDMA phone and a chance to upgrade to the iPhone. Previous Verizon conversions from GSM to CDMA have gone smoothly and we expect this one to be, too. Plateau was a real champion of the rural wireless user, even keeping analog operating because so few farmers could afford to convert their wireless sprinkler controls over to digital.

We wish Plateau's main parent, The ENMR Telephone Cooperative, well. We hope they'll still have some customers left to co-operate with. Most of us may have cut the cord.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The PrePaid iPhone!

I noted a recent rumor about a prepaid iPhone, or more accurately, a SIM that you can stick in any AT&T, T-Mobile or unlocked GSM iPhone. The rumor is that American Movil, parent company of TracFone, Net10 and Straight Talk, will offer a prepaid SIM for Straight Talk's regular plans which include their $45 Unlimited Talk, Text and Web. Unlimited? Well, yes, for the time being. Who knows what will transpire if this approaches reality. T-Mobile and AT&T might object to any Unlimited users on their networks, but stranger things have happened.

You might want to grab (or hold on to) an old iPhone. It might become your new, less expensive friend.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Can Sprint's Broadband Get Better?

Sprint has been hot and cold with their relationship with Clearwire, the wholesale 4G broadband network that has been providing almost all of Sprint's 4G coverage. Sprint recently stated they will now start using their own network for 4G LTE coverage instead of Clear's WIMAX 4G network. That transition will probably will be slow to roll out. Sprint actually issued their own 4G Coverage Map which is identical to Clear's Map.

Sprint will will probably use as much of their legacy 1900MHz PCS spectrum as possible for their own flavor of 4G service, which is slightly better than Clear's higher, 2500MHz spectrum. Sprint's broadband will also reflect coverage more like their voice network, which may or may not cause problems for current users.

We can't help but think this situation will change again. Clear may convert to LTE, and Clear and Sprint may need each other strictly from an economic standpoint. Neither one of them can afford a new network, especially as an overlay, and there are other clouds on the horizon such as the potential failure of Lightsquared...or a potential competitor with the new Dish broadband network. Both events may force Clear and Sprint to play nice(r). After all, Sprint has invested lotsa Million$ in Clear that they probably can't get back.

As usual, nothing is certain and there's also always a chance of any one company not doing the smart thing. Would you be surprised if AT&T bought Clear? We expected Cricket and MetroPCS to tie up long ago. Just because they haven't doesn't mean it's still not the best course of action. The only Smart they may know, is their Smart Phones.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Finding Customer Service

In doing research for one of our newer web pages, How to Get Cheaper Wireless Service, I noticed that many of the suggestions for cutting your wireless bill involves communicating with your cellular carrier...even having them help find more economical solutions for your wireless account. We found that may be difficult with several wireless carriers, even some of the large ones.

Take MetroPCS. They try to handle all of your concerns either online or by an automated voice response system. They claim, "To keep prices low..." they limit the number of humans who can help you. This requires a different approach to finding your best deal, mostly through online resources. I tried to get some quirky questions answered at a local MetroPCS store, only to get a puzzled look from the store's solitary, big-eyed, female, uh...sales clerk.

There are several other wireless companies who have similar challenges, some of which result from having too few, or too inexperienced representatives. We would expect this kind of "bargain" service from prepaid companies, but some of them do a respectable job. As usual, though, it depends on how lucky you are when you spin the customer service roulette wheel.

In the most extreme cases, the best strategy is to start over...disconnect your service and establish a new account. That might be too drastic if it means you lose your current phone number. In that case, you might go even more extreme and "port" your number to an entirely different carrier, and then port back. Extreme could be the new normal.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Phones from Wal-Mart

We have recommended for years to stop by a 'brick & mortar' store to play with the wireless phones you might be interested in, then shop online for them to get the best deal. Now, we can turn that around. Ours is one of the few sites that offer online phones that are supposed to be "only" available at stores like Wal-Mart. For years we have been offering Straight Talk phones on our online shopping pages, something the other retailers say can't be done. Now, we can also offer Wal-Mart Family Mobile phones online!

Wal-Mart has several phones you can handle in the store, including the iPhone, and now you can order all of the phones available in the store, right here, online. Family Mobile recently began offering their Unlimited Talk & Text plan for only $45 a month, with the real benefit coming when you add additional family members at only $35 each. The whole family also gets to share 250 Mb of monthly data. We also like their cheap international calling rates at .05 per minute to 12 countries including Mexico and Canada. And, while you probably won't want to pay the high rates, Family Mobile phones also work while roaming in Canada, Mexico, Haiti & Dominican Republic. It's one of the those 'nice to have just in case' features.

With Straight Talk and Family Mobile available on our shopping pages, you can pick among your options even easier than ever. Family Mobile phones use the entire T-Mobile US network, which has improved lately. Also, Straight Talk phones recently began offering you the choice of one of each of the top 4 networks, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, making their flavor of economical unlimited service even more tasty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Case for T-Mobile

Today at the CES, T-Mobile president and CEO, Philipp Humm, claimed T-Mobile is ready to upset the apple cart again. He revealed that they indeed have been working on their "Plan B" for several months. They came out of the failed deal with AT&T with more money, more spectrum, and more roaming agreements (hey, might that have been their objective all along?). T-Mobile also quietly upgraded a few hundred of their stores. Now they can put all of these things to good use, and consumers should benefit.

T-Mobile already offers a good product and several exclusive benefits including the choice of cheaper plans without extra fees for subsidized handsets, and without a contract. There's that great Prepaid plan and the pay-as-you-go broadband I used during the holidays. They also have enough spectrum to offer faster broadband for the next several years whether they choose HSPA or LTE. The T-Mobile staff should be a happy group now that their jobs aren't on the line. The only thing they don't have is the iPhone, and that may be coming.

T-Mobile could indeed be grooming their operation for another buyer, but they're also treating it like they may be stuck with it. We still haven't heard from the other communications players like cable or satellite who may be courting T-Mobile on the side. So, our view of T-Mobile is now more positive than ever. As the feds put it, the market needs a "disruptive" force in wireless. We hope we will be shaken, not stirred!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Roaming Data

You might have guessed I was heading out on the road after the updating of our Roaming Zone web site and you guessed right. I used data in a few fixed locations and wi-fi is almost universally available, even at many rural rest stops. The sad news is that none of my relatives have wireless available at their homes. Instead of staying at a nearby hotel, I decided it was time to refill in my cellular air cards to plug in to my Netbook.

I ended up using a cheap model from T-Mobile called the Rocket. It is slow in starting up but once connected, my 4G connections were surprisingly fast, at least 5 Mbs. $30 gets me 1Gb of data to use over 30 days. I sorta hoped I would need to try some of the other cheap options, but the Rocket performed beyond my expectations. T-Mobile now has a "Jet" model that is Free after rebates. Virgin Mobile has a similar Laptop stick and a plan that gives you 500 Mb over 30 days for only $20. That connection is supposed to be only "3G", but connections can be surprisingly fast.

This isn't a review of one wireless device over another, but instead the options available for those of us who want wireless data for a laptop for occasional use (and don't forget we offer Discount refills for those prepaid data cards at Mountain Prepaid!). Paying $30 was easier than trying to convince my sister that she needs to add a wireless router to her Internet connection, "I just got it all working the way I like it." And I don't need to sneak into her bedroom to unplug her Ethernet plug. A small price for family harmony.