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?