Friday, December 20, 2013

Revol Wireless Pulls the Plug

Another small wireless carrier, Revol Wireless has thrown in the towel. Based in Cleveland. their own network served several cities around the Great Lakes (but not Chicago).  Sprint has come in to grab a few customers (or all of them?) by converting several of the Revol stores into Boost Wireless outlets.  Boost has extended an offer of a free phone and a free month of service to Revol users, but they need to move fast.  The deadline for switching to Boost is Christmas Eve.  Long lines are forming at the Boost stores...just what we need in the busy holiday season.

Even if you can't wait in line or if you miss the deadline, you have until January 16th to switch to any carrier and keep your current number.  After that, it's all gone.  We're betting every carrier in town will welcome Revol users but they won't have the prices Revol users were enjoying.  Don't expect to be able to use your old phone, so get ready to start with a new phone and a new carrier.  Call it it a forced Christmas present to yourself.

"Revol" was supposed to introduce a "Revolution" in the wireless industry, but other carriers revolved as well. The loss of another carrier is a sad thing but what's even sadder is that when a company like Revol goes away it usually means users will be absorbed into one of the major carriers.  At least you can keep away from the contracts with the low-priced carriers listed at Mountain Unlimited.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How Much Data Do You Need?

It wasn't long ago that most wireless carriers offered Unlimited Data plans.  Then they found out just how much we would use if given free access to the Data buffet.  Since then there have been caps put on Data usage which should give us reason to at least think about how much Data we need.  It was during the Unlimited Data revolution we created the Mountain Unlimited web site to capitalize on what was then the novelty of Unlimited data plans.

Now with almost every carrier offering some kind of "Unlimited" Data, we decided instead to help you find the cheapest Data plans.  We arranged them by price.  Yes, you can get Unlimited Data for $25 (or less!) as long as you're willing to make some tradeoffs.  We searched for the best plan at each price point.  For example, at $40 per month MetroPCS offers 500 Mb of Data before getting "throttled" down to 2G speeds.  But we link to SIMple Mobile who offers 2.5GB before getting the throttle.  None of these plans don't require a contract.

The average wireless smart phone user gobbles up just less than 2GB of data per month and, of course, we expect that to increase, especially with the wider availability of 4G service. The bigger the plate and the bigger the buffet table, the more we can consume.  We'll help you find the best buffet price.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

AT&T Plans Better Value

Like T-Mobile and some Prepaid services, AT&T has introduced plans that separates the subsidy for your phone and the price of your plan. AT&T calls them "Mobile Share Value Plans" plans, but they mean better prices, especially for those of us who don't adhere to a 2-year phone replacement schedule.  Whether you want a non-contract plan or a bring-your-own-device offer, you can save a noticeable amount of money compared to the old way of pricing phones.  Unless you replace your phone ever 24 months, you either got a penalty for upgrading early, or keep paying for a phone long after it was paid off.

This puts more pressure on Sprint and even more on Verizon who still tie their plans to the phone purchase.  I will admit, this may mean the end of free or $100 to $200 phones, but most carriers let you pay these off in a more transparent way: when the phone is paid for, your payment drops.

AT&T, who, in our opinion, still needs to make more technical upgrades in their network (and they are making them), moves up one step in the Mountain Wireless Carrier Ratings.  Offering better value helps make up for some of their other shortcomings.  At the same time, Verizon Wireless leaps ahead in their network quality and I'm sure they're thinking if we want the better network, we'll pay for it.  Hey, the other wireless networks are getting better, too. It just may be good enough when it's priced better as well.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Westlink Wireless Gives Up

Instead of complaining about the passing of another wireless operator, we note whether an ownership change is good or bad for the wireless user.  In the case of Westlink Wireless of southeast Kansas, wireless service is about improve significantly.  United Wireless of Dodge City, KS has acquired all of the assets of Westlink.  Westlink was owned by Pioneer Communications and United is operated by the United Telephone Association.  Westlink and United serve approximately the same area with cellular coverage, but the United network is far more advanced.

According to Jeff Renner, Wireless Manger, United Wireless offers 3G and 4G-LTE coverage.  When Westlink customers get a new CDMA phone to replace their old GSM phone, service will improve dramatically.  Westlink decided not to upgrade their wireless network and when all their customers switch over to United phones, they will just turn off the old GSM network.  This could cause a big hole in GSM coverage across the southwest Kansas area which could cause some trouble for GSM roamers caught unaware.  We believe there is, or will be, new GSM coverage in the area, so all should not be lost.

We're happy to hear that United has built such a sophisticated network and hope that local customers will support a homegrown business.  They'll get great local coverage and still be able to roam away from home.  As a result, we also upgraded United's Rating on our Mountain Wireless Ratings.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

911: Emergency Services Still Can't Find You!

A recent article about 911 calls not showing location data reveals a disturbing trend.  Location information that is relayed to emergency call centers from wireless phones has been declining over the past few years, instead of increasing.  This report refers specifically to California callers but is technically indicative of what may be happening across the nation.  Generally, AT&T and T-Mobile are reducing the reported location of their customers dramatically, while Verizon and Sprint are increasing theirs slowly.  Combined, the performance of all networks is still somewhere below 50% which is far less than what the FCC hoped would be achieved by now.

This tells us that the first thought that should come into your mind during a 911 call is to tell your location.  You could "register" your cell phone number to a specific address but that has limited usefulness to a mobile society.  The California situation points toward the cellular networks as the weak link in the process.  Government units have been upgrading their call centers, users have been upgrading their phones, and the wireless carriers claim their are upgrading their networks.

The only variable that comes to mind is that users are using more data than making calls.  Are the carriers' abilities to track us slipping by focusing on broadband, or is something else going on?  Don't depend on them to save your life.  Be aware of where you are, even in the city.

Monday, October 21, 2013

AIO Wireless: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

AT&T has decided to discontinue their new AIO (All In One) Wireless if their acquisition of Cricket Wireless is approved by the FCC. We're not certain why AT&T needs 2, let alone 3 Prepaid brands, but there must be some mysterious value.  I know they hope to hold on to the millions of Cricket customers.  Beyond that, we'll guess that Cricket will eventually look like what AIO looks like...which looks like what GoPhone looks like but with plans rearranged to attract a different audience. Yes, much like the re-arranged deck chairs on the Titanic.

In comparison, Sprint has succeeded in maintaining 2 separate Prepaids, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile.  Sprint's new Prepaid entry, Sprint As You Go, is directed to yet another category of Prepaid users, but for the life of me I can't tell who that is.  Could we call it "Sprint Without a Contract?"  T-Mobile jumped in with GoSmart Mobile even though they had their own excellent T-Mobile-branded Prepaid and they also just bought MetroPCS.  The Metro purchase made sense because it came with a batch of well-placed spectrum.  GoSmart, none.  We're not going to mention the half-dozen Prepaid services from America Movil.

When a wireless company buys a chunk of spectrum it makes sense to keep as many of the customers that comes with it as possible.  Creating a new wireless brand, one that will compete with your existing business, makes no sense.  We predict these Prepaids-without-a-purpose are doomed, and AIO is the first to fall. Guess which is next.

Monday, October 14, 2013

PrePaid Moves Closer to Mainstream

A few months ago we noted the transition of Prepaid toward the new normal.  At that time we consolidated all of our Prepaid data to one site, Mountain Prepaid.  We still maintained some reviews for the largest prepaid service like TracFone on the Mountain Wireless Review pages, but now those have been moved to Mountain Prepaid as well.

In expanding the Prepaid site to include a much larger number of prepaid services, we noted that some primary regional and local carriers only offer prepaid plans.  This has the increased effect that soon we may no longer know, or care, about whether a carrier is Prepaid or not.  The top tier carriers are making the difference less clear by introducing their own separate brands of prepaid wireless.  In order to provide a certain level of transparency we divided Prepaid between that offered by the major carriers and that offered by independent companies.

Interestingly, one of those "independent" companies, America Movil, is a "major" carrier in other countries further blurring the line between primary and secondary carriers.  MetroPCS and Cricket have always been "prepaid", but now they are (or soon will be) the Prepaid arm of other major carriers.  Where do they fit now? With each of the largest carriers beginning to disassociate the purchase of the wireless phone from the monthly plan, we feel that postpaid accounts may soon fall into the minority within all US wireless companies.  Then we'll be stuck.  "Prepaid" won't mean anything different and we'll need to put all the carriers back together again. Humpty Dumpty would be proud.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

AT&T Hopes to Put Element Out of Its Misery

AT&T has agreed to take control of Element Mobile.  Credit goes to Fierce Wireless who reports that Element will become Lake Mobility which will be mostly owned by AT&T.  This means yet another exchange of handsets for customers in the central Wisconsin area but this time the switchover should be much more friendly.

Element Mobile was created by the owners of the spectrum in this Wisconsin area who refused to sell their license to Verizon as part of its acquisition of Alltel Wireless.  The conversion was a nightmare for former Alltel customers and our Ratings for the network has been among the lowest of all wireless carriers in the US based on how badly they treated their old Alltel customers.

In the meantime, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have been encroaching into the Element area and their days seemed to be numbered.  This should mean better days for Wisconsin wireless customers and enables us to say this is one small carrier that will be better put to sleep.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

US Cellular Drops Customer-Friendly Policies

US Cellular has become less customer-friendly, especially with the quiet end of their "Belief Project".  Credit goes to Engadget for noticing the changes.  US Cellular has long sat at the top of Our Reviews and achieved a perfect "10" in the Mountain Wireless Ratings.  The end of the Belief Project and things like free battery exchanges makes US Cellular more like the major carriers, maybe even a step below until they begin to sell the iPhone.

We thought long and hard about dropping US Cellular's perfect "10" in our Ratings but there are still 2 carriers in that spot.  Being at "9" isn't too shabby and US Cellular could slide back up to a 10 if they make some improvements...or if the other "10's" get worse.  We also looked to see if any of the #9 carriers deserve to move up.  C Spire comes close but their plans are just a little expensive and limited.

We still believe US Cellular provides a great wireless service and selling the iPhone will reduce one of their few negatives. US Cellular also has a cloudy future, especially as they focus more on the bottom line. Even a sale may be difficult now. Their best course of survival would be to become a buyer of other small carriers but that seems unlikely after selling their network and customers in the Chicago to St. Louis areas to Sprint.

Our other remaining "10" rated carriers still offer a superior product but their operations are increasingly affected by outside sources.  Let's hope they can defend the castle for at least a few more years.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Caught With My Numbers Down

Summer travel is over and the kids are back in school.  The family and I had some great experiences "roaming" in different countries.  It was the last trip home where we had our first "hiccup".  In France, I don't use a local SIM, instead I just use my prepaid T-Mobile SIM with my unlocked multi-band GSM phone.  The T-Mobile Wi-fi Calling option works perfectly, completing calls as if I was in the US...when I have wi-fi.

I swear the rest of this is true.  We're on our way back to the airport when we find one of our family has lost his train pass.  What next?.  When we finally got in the train station, and after seeing no trains going to the airport, a kind passerby told us trains to the airport weren't running that day...they were making repairs. What next?

We chose to get on a train that at least got us closer to the airport, hoping for a bus or taxi at the end of the line.  Now this isn't where the fun stopped, but it was where I decided I need to speak with our airline about alternate plans.  Among the scenic fields of rural France I had a generous roaming signal but no broadband and no wi-fi, and no idea of the airline's phone number.  I was prepared for all possibilities...except the airline's non-"800" number.  I could not complete a call to a US "800" number.

After arriving home I added new entries to my travel checklist: phone numbers that you need while traveling, and posted it on our Roaming Zone International Roaming Pages.  Now that I will be traveling with all my necessary phone numbers, you know I'll never need them again.

Oh, and What's Next?  When we finally found a bus and arrived at the airport with almost enough time to check in, our path was blocked by soldiers with machine guns preventing us from using the airport tram because of a bomb scare.  Oh wait, they prefer to call it an "unattended piece of luggage".  Yes, we missed our flight, but once inside the airport, Wi-fi Calling worked again.  The airline, who never heard about the bomb scare, and didn't seem to care, got us on another flight.  Having the right numbers with us would have prevented some sweat-stained clothes...but that's part of the fun of travel.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Page Plus Makes Big Improvements

Page Plus Cellular has been one our favorite MVNO's but suffered from poor customer service.  Recently we were updating our Prepaid Pages and gave Page Plus a whole new look.  We were pleasantly surprised.

The turning point was their new Talk 'n Text 1200 plan.  Now, for only $29.95 you get 1200 minutes of Talk, 3000 Texts and 500 Mb of Data.  This is very generous, but the advantages don't stop there.  There are so many improvements, we only have room for a list:

  • The $29.95 Talk 'n Text 1200 Plan includes more features than most users will ever need.
  • Page Plus will activate almost any CDMA phone, including a Verizon Wireless iPhone.
  • Customer Service has improved greatly often with agents answering within a few minutes.
  • Auto-Refill recharges your account on the same date each month, not every 30 days like some prepaids.  If nothing else, this make accounting easier.
  • Page Plus phones will roam off the Home network which is normally Verizon Wireless.  Other MVNO's, like Straight Talk, do not allow their CDMA phones to roam at all.  Page Plus charges a modest roaming fee, and you need to have some cash in your account, but your phone will work should you travel away from your Home network.
  • Refills are widely available at retail or Online at a Discount.
There are additional features that are consumer-friendly and the company has agreed to be purchased by America Movil, the parent of TracFone.  So far Amerca Movil has kept each of the prepaid companies they have acquired intact, so we expect Page Plus to remain a highly recommended prepaid alternative. We have raised our Prepaid Rating of Page Plus from 2 Stars to 3, and we might need to expand the scale to show how dramatic their advantages are.

Friday, July 12, 2013

AT&T Catches the Cricket

We knew this domino would fall soon, we just weren't sure where.  Now that AT&T has agreed to buy Leap Wireless the parent of Cricket Wireless, we now know we'll have 4 big wireless carriers and now we know how they will be composed.  It's always sad to see another carrier disappear, but this is where we're headed.  We're just lucky that it looks like we'll have a Big 4 instead of a Big 2.

The Cricket name will live on, and just like MetroPCS, it will remain a brand using a different  network with much better capabilities and much better coverage.  This may also be an attempt by AT&T to face the future of no contracts and prepaid plans.  If Cricket's customers grow faster than AT&T, the money still goes into the same pot.  We also get a bit more broadband capacity among the Big survivors.

We'll watch the Cricket evolution, but it should mirror that of MetroPCS: switching phones from CDMA to GSM and broadening the names to be better nationwide competitors.

We had hopes that Cricket and MetroPCS would wind up together to make a passable 5th competitor, but, alas, that dream was not meant to be.  Now what becomes of the new number 5 through 10 network? Counting them down is what we do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Land Line Dinosaur

In our last posting we noted the availability of equipment directly from wireless carriers that replace your wireline with a wireless box.  Recently, Verizon, the landline operator, decided they will not replace the damaged copper wire lines in parts of New York and New Jersey that were damaged by (hurricane) Sandy.  Instead, they will use Verizon Wireless Voice Link.  Their studies showed 80 to 90% of phone traffic in those areas were already exclusively wireless.  In a guest column from Stop the Cap, Tom Maguire, Verizon’s Senior Vice President of Network Operations Support stated,
"In places like Fire Island, New York and some communities along the Jersey Shore, such as Mantoloking and Seaside Heights, Verizon evaluated the extent of the damage to its facilities – which in many cases were literally washed away by Super Storm Sandy – and conducted extensive research before deciding the best course of action to take in terms of restoration.

Fire Island is a popular beach community with only a few hundred year-round residents, but the population swells each summer. Verizon’s equipment on the eastern side of the island was not too heavily impacted, so repairs were made and services restored. On the western side of the Island, however, a large percentage of Verizon’s copper facilities were damaged beyond repair.
We studied the voice traffic on and off the island and where it was originating from on both Verizon’s wireline and wireless networks.  The company discovered that 80 percent of the voice traffic was already wireless.  If other wireless providers were factored in, it is likely that the percentage is closer to 90 percent.  This made it clear that people had already made the decision as to what technology works best. They had abandoned copper long before Sandy."
This is similar to incidents in the West where phone poles and wires were damaged by floods and wildfires and were replaced by RF microwave links.  At the time, customers and lawmakers feared losing the reliability of copper wire but after years of usage with these wireless connections, those fears have been largely unfounded.

It looks like when our copper networks begin to deteriorate, wireless may be the only replacement, especially when many of us have already substituted that pair of wires with cable from the cable company.  While it's scary that in some places the same company owns all 3 connections, it looks like the future is indeed wireless.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Same Home Phones - Minus Ma Bell

We noted the move of millions of households to all-wireless phones when we created The Unwired Home web site several years ago.  It was shortly thereafter that we moved Mom into assisted living and equipped her with a nice, simple wireless phone.  She said she appreciated the snazzy features that came with it, but she never overcame the idea that she thought she missed a bunch of calls from family when she was actually just looking at the old calls list.

My sister decided the technical questions were dominating the conversations, so she broke down and paid AT&T for a good old fashioned land line with Mom's old favorite desk phone with the oversize push buttons.  Mom didn't miss any of the cellular features and the topics returned to family and dinner and friends...and not the phone.

Then I discovered the joy of the Wireless Home Phone. It's a box offered by 3 of the top 4 carriers and some of the major Prepaids.  Mom still gets to use her Big Button phone, but the cord now goes to a box with an antenna, hidden elsewhere in the room.  Mom is none the wiser and all her calls are toll-free. She even figured out Call Waiting, and how to ignore it if she wants, too.

These new boxes are super easy to set up and save a lot of bucks if you are switching from a landline, plus you get all the features available with a normal cell phone.  This is big step in converting older family members to all-wireless.  They take it personally if they have to give up those kitchen and cordless phones they've invested in over the years.  And the learning curve is about zero unless they want to play with all those new, included features. Monthly fees range from $10 to $20 per month and the wireless "box" can be free with a contract or purchased without a contract for less than $100.  We also found a family who owns a vacation home that was remodeled and found the old phone wiring was dead (cut by careless contractor or sloppy homeowner).  Their new wireless box hidden in the closet brought all the wiring in the condo back to life...and for a lot less money.

We have a page just for these Wireless Home Phone Systems and now that Straight Talk and NET10 offer their own non-contract version of the device, we now have choices in what we think is a useful market.  I don't think I'll be caught walking around the house without my regular cell phone in my pocket, but Mom & Dad just might think it's the 'cat's pajamas'.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cellular vs. Wireless

Over the years we have been listening to wireless users, and wondered what words you relate to most in relation to these activities: Wireless, Cellular, Mobile or something else?  In most foreign countries users call their wireless phones a "Mobile".,,not 'mobile phone', just 'Mobile'.  Since we first named ourselves Mountain Wireless, we thought US customers preferred the term 'Wireless'. As a result, we tried to eventually switch any of our web site names from 'Cellular' to 'Wireless', in the hopes of being more relevant to our readers.

Among the largest carriers, Wireless was chosen by Verizon, Cricket, Clear, Alltel and C Spire. Cellular is still preferred by US Cellular. PCS was used formerly by Sprint and still by MetroPCS. Mobile is being used by T-Mobile, Boost, Virgin, and in a form, AT&T Mobility.  It looks like Cellular is now the least popular among companies that have a lot at risk.  Remember Cellular One or Cellular South?

Our view is that Cellular (and Mobile) refers to the type of service used by people using carriers that provide handsets meant to be used in motion, in and away from home.  Wireless infers something more generic that includes portable communications, wi-fi (which is "wireless fidelity"), and data transfer using non-wired devices. We call this thing in our hand a cell phone, not a mobile or even a wireless phone, but we don't perceive a difference between getting our service from T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless.

Most important to us as a web-based service, changing from one name to another has turned out to be a bad idea.  As an example, the web site you are reading right now lost more than half of its visitors when we changed from Cellular Noise to Wireless Noise. Should we change it back...or go mobile?  Old habits die hard, don't they?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sprint Coverage Changes

I tripped over a conversation among Sprint users across America's heartland and found that Sprint's Rural Alliance seemed to be falling apart.  The most detailed report we found was from an Oklahoma newspaper article that reported Sprint was changing its operating capabilities because so many of their customers were using expensive roaming data.

A few years ago we reported a similar situation across Wyoming and Montana where Sprint lost Alltel coverage areas as "native" Sprint service.  That meant Sprint customers were no longer allowed to use that coverage as their "home" network, and eventually, that CDMA coverage went away.  We were taken to task when we showed Sprint as missing that local coverage when a few users were disturbed to find it was no longer included in their regular bucket of minutes or data.

Now a similar change is occurring in rural Oklahoma and Kansas where once was "home' coverage is now roaming.  The good news is that service is still available although download speeds may be reduced and roaming charges (or penalties) may increase.  This affects a very small portion of Sprint customers, but if that's you, it could be a big deal.  It also shows more cracks in the armor of Sprint's on-network-only Unlimited plans that a few Sprint customers depend on.

"New" Sprint coverage in the Chicago to St. Louis area does not make up for these losses. Those territories gained from US Cellular only make the Sprint network a bit more robust in those areas.  The real issue here for users like us is that we still depend on a certain amount of roaming when we stray away from home, and it may cost more.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The New Direction of Prepaid

We fully expected prepaid wireless to become mainstream instead of the domain of the credit-challenged.  Some carriers are already 'prepaid-only' and recent economic struggles brought a large number of users to the prepaid arena mostly due to the lower price.  Now prepaid has taken a turn which has sparked some serious changes.

A few years ago we saw prepaid wireless customers paying for their service 'by the minute' instead of by the month.  We responded with the web sites, "" and "".  Today customers aren't buying prepaid wireless as much by the minute, but more in blocks of unlimited minutes or in bites of megabytes.  Instead of paying as we go, we're still paying by the month, just without contracts.

The larger carriers have stepped up with their own improved prepaid offers or whole new prepaid programs.  AT&T has expanded beyond their GoPhone to their newest "Aio Wireless" (AIO = "All In One", pronounced "A-O)"), which sells the same thing as GoPhone with a different price structure, more like the unlimited plans started by T-Mobile and Straight Talk.  Verizon Wireless has improved their prepaid offers but has chosen not to branch off with a different name.  T-Mobile has introduced "GoSmart" as their prepaid specialty but they have also introduced a level of confusion by dropping the contract requirements for their regular cellular service as well as taking on, and expanding, another prepaid brand, MetroPCS.  T-Mobile also still has their old Prepaid brand.

Sprint now has their own prepaid brand as well as Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile prepaid services.  The other top prepaid supplier is American Movil who is making subtle changes to their Prepaid products.  For the most part they are separating which carriers will offer "Unlimited" and which ones will offer "Value."  We're also finding their Net10 and StraightTalk services are depending more on T-Mobile's network than AT&T.  For some reason, Cricket has taken a low profile. They may be the next to evolve...or go extinct.

We have also responded by shifting all of our "ByTheMinute" web sites over to "" to reflect the Prepaid nature of this evolution instead of pay-as-you-go.  We still offer our exclusive Discount Prepaid Refills.  There are still opportunities for the light user and we can help you find them.

Friday, May 3, 2013

MetroPCS Evolves

MetroPCS and T-Mobile have merged.  That's not news.  What happens next is going to be important.  T-Mobile becomes a much stronger carrier after gaining significant spectrum as a gift from the failed AT&T acquisition, and spectrum brought to the table with the MetroPCS merger.  Not only does T-Mobile get more spectrum, they get it in the largest markets and they get it contiguous to their existing spectrum.  This a powerful combination.  T-Mobile has become a contender, at least technically.

MetroPCS is now supposed to become a nationally-available prepaid service which will be operating on those new T-Mobile frequencies.  MetroPCS will continue to use their old CDMA network for the next couple of years which depends heavily on roaming partners to achieve nationwide coverage.  But now who needs MetroPCS?  Analysts suggest it might focus on the low end of the market, potentially the "credit-challenged."  But so does T-Mobile's own Prepaid and fledgling GoSmart Mobile.

Like Sprint's purchase of Nextel, the MetroPCS name may disappear.  Remember, most of the country has never heard of MetroPCS.  Unlike Nextel, MetroPCS comes with a hefty dowry of spectrum, so the name may not hold much value.  Are either "Metro" or "PCS" even relevant terms these days?  We will maintain it as a separate brand among our wireless network reports and coverage maps, but if MetroPCS becomes no more than a mirror image of T-Mobile Prepaid it may end up on our Wireless Archives page or among Alternative Networks.  With so much spectrum to work with we hope they find their niche.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Too Much 3G?

It seems like just a few months ago everyone was screaming for 3G.   Our 3G Coverage Comparison Page is still one of our most popular.  Now we all want 4G, and the carriers are doing their best to provide a nice increase in price.  Where does that leave all that 3G coverage?

The carriers have found a robust wholesale market for all that 'excess' coverage, providing service to Straight Talk, Page Plus, SIMple Mobile and a host of other cellular re-sellers or MVNO's.  I read each day about the fears in forums that Straight Talk and the like just might become too popular, and the major carriers will throttle them back from their Unlimited Talk & Data.  In some areas that may be the case, but in the Big Picture, these carriers are trying real hard to move us up to 4G, which, for the most part, is on a separate network,  different spectrum, or, at least, separate channels.  That means they are also freeing up all that 3G capacity they have been building.

The Big 4 will not admit they have a surplus of anything while they are pleading with the Feds to provide more spectrum.  Truly, most of us are demanding more and more bandwidth through our phone, but that also leaves a gap for those of us whose needs are bit more modest.  3G is good for me...for now...and there are a lot of us who will benefit from everyone else moving up.  5G (or LTE+, or whatever is next) is coming and my current phone can already access 4G, I'm just waiting for everyone else to move out of my way.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mohave Wireless Gives Up

Mohave Wireless in Northwest Arizona has been acquired by Verizon Wireless.  Our only real surprise is that this transaction took so long.  This is a relatively large hole in Verizon's cellular coverage with a very busy I-40 corridor and a popular resort area, Lake Havasu City.  Verizon has owned a small part of Mohave for many years so there has always been a favorable roaming agreement between the two.

Mohave has a very good wireless network in the area and their customers may not notice any improvements.  Since they already have good roaming abilities and a wide selection of handsets, we predict services will slowly become more expensive for Mohave customers who may also lose bundle discounts with their Frontier wireline service.  The good news is that we expect the network will soon be converted to all 3G, with 4G coming as well.

There are 2 groups who will gain significantly with this transaction: Verizon's own prepaid users and those MVNO customers who either have no service in the area or pay roaming charges.  The largest of these services include Page Plus and Straight Talk CDMA users.

OK, now here is our 'boo-hoo, there goes another carrier' routine.  It's sad to see another carrier disappear, but in Mohave's case, we now have the ability to switch from our old Verizon postpaid phone to Page Plus, or even better, switch from a Straight Talk GSM phone to one of their CDMA phones.  In this case it's nice to be outside looking in.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stop Over-Paying for Your Phone

It was exactly 3 months ago we advised you that if you don't get a new wireless phone at least every 2 years, you're paying more for that phone than you expected.  Today, T-Mobile is now selling phones at a predictable price, and plans that don't include a monthly payment for the phone.  At first glance you might shudder at the thought of paying as much as $600 for your next wireless phone, but it could be less than what you were paying before, especially if you don't regularly upgrade your phone.  This means the contract is going away, too!  T-Mobile will help you spread the payments for your phone over a couple years.  We're hoping other carriers will follow.

For now, this means a reduction in plan prices, but we're hoping for more.  You may be among our more savvy readers who already buys a Prepaid phone for full price, then get service from a re-seller like Straight Talk at a much lower cost than you pay the carriers directly.  So this method of phone payment isn't new, it's just being done by carriers for whatever plan you want and not be limited to their selection of prepaid plans and potentially the associated limited coverage.  Will will be able to retire our Getting Out of Your Cellular Contract Page?

The FCC said that if AT&T was permitted to acquire T-Mobile, the wireless market would lose a major "disrupter".  Well, T-Mobile, disrupt away.

Monday, March 11, 2013

SouthernLINC Finds A Roaming Solution

Just last week we downgraded SouthernLINC, and iDEN carrier on the US Gulf Coast to a much lower Rating to reflect the loss of nationwide roaming on its only possible roaming partner, Nextel.  Sprint will be shutting down the Nextel network in June leaving SouthernLINC customers with no where to use their phone but in their own 4-state region.  That was indeed unfortunate because SouthernLINC is a pretty good wireless carrier backed up by an awesome electric utility company.

SouthernLINC has signed up with a roaming partner to allow their customers to roam on various GSM networks, potentially AT&T, T-Mobile and others, when away from SouthernLINC's home territory.  The only catch is that you'll need a new 'dual SIM' phone that they will be offering soon, and an additional prepaid roaming plan.  If you ever travel out of their home area, this is a good compromise.

We believe this improves SouthernLINC's usability.  We upped their Mountain Wireless Network Rating, and when they begin offering the GSM roaming we'll probably up it another notch or two.  This is good news from a very good carrier.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Viaero's President Responds

I recently saw an anonymous response by a Viaero customer to an old blog posting of ours:
I have been a Viaero customer for about 2 years now in the south eastern part of colorado. service was fine at first, but since about the middle of 2012 we have seen alot more dropped calls and internet on phone is as slow as dial-up. there are rumors that there is a lawsuit between them and AT&T that happened around that time. phone customer service is a joke. most the time they tell you to remove battery and sim and wait 30 sec so phone can reset. that never helps. i have been disappointed that there cell service has decreased from a radius of 12 to 15 down to 6 to 8 miles from there towers. this leaves a lot of there rural customers in a bind. we are unable to chose another carrier because we would be roaming of viaero's towers and other carriers will cancel your contract within 6 months and we have to pay the early termination fees. 
So I contacted Viaero Wireless, a cellular carrier serving Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and surrounding states, and the President of the company, Frank DiRico called me back.  Frank is a stand up guy and takes pride in their attempts at technical excellence.  He stated that the southeast Colorado part of his network is getting very busy.  So busy that they further subdivided their cells into more quadrants which could have adjusted the signal away from customers like the one above.  He offered to send a tech down to that person's home if only they shared their location.

In place of that, Mr. DiRico suggested that if a customer does not get a satisfactory solution, "They should ask to have their call 'escalated' to the technical department."  Frank noted that the southeast Colorado area is so busy he already has plans to add 2 more cell sites in the area.  He states he can't add them fast enough, especially during the winter, but they do construct 1 or 2 new sites a week.  Viareo installs their own sites and does not contract that work out.

This is why Viaero has earns a "10" in the Mountain Wireless Ratings. Why can't they all respond this well?

Friday, February 15, 2013

One More Lost Carrier

I neglected to report one additional carrier that has gone out of the wireless business, XIT Wireless of extreme northwest Texas. The XIT cellular network has been sold to AT&T.  They had very good 800 MHz coverage and helps further AT&T's dominance in the Lone Star State.  Unlike the systems reported on yesterday, XIT will be missed, although their customers will notice very few changes...and may not have noticed anything at all.

I was certainly fooled.  Passing through Dumas, TX my AT&T phone said I was roaming on XIT, and the XIT store I drove past still promoted wireless plans in the window.  Additionally, FCC records show that AT&T and XIT  have a separate spectrum lease agreement that implies that XIT may offer some kind of wireless service, most likely a form of Internet access.

So, we add one more name to our Wireless Archives...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

More Vanishing Carriers

It looks like our fastest growing data page is the Mountain Wireless Network Archives.  Over the past few months a few more cellular operators have decided to go out of business.  Etex Wireless of Gilmer, TX have decide to drop their wireless business with apparently no buyers.  They recommend going to Verizon Wireless.

In Nebraska the news is good as AT&T will finally be able to take over the Indigo Wireless network in the panhandle area. This has been a 12 year disagreement that pretty much caused the indigo network to virtually disappear.  Under AT&T the area will be served like never before, although the squabble helped make Viaero Wireless the top dog in the area, especially since they now serve most of the area with 4G.

Another network that fell out of bed was Via Wireless in Georgia. Their technical teams have been spending all of their time upgrading the fiber and wireline segments of the owner, Wilkes Telephone Company, and pretty much gave up the wireless network.  This is another operator that will probably just flip off the switch to the cell sites and only the employees will notice.

One of the trends that causes us to consider the difference between "cellular" and "wireless" is that when we call and ask about the status of a wireless network, the response is, "Which one?"  A few forward-thinking reps answer that although they are turning off their cellular network, you can subscribe to their Internet service and access the wireless part of your home router with your Smart phone and limit the amount of broadband charges from the surviving cellular operators. We include Clear Wireless among our network data and need to stay aware that there are viable wireless options among every single Internet service node whether it's up the street or in your house.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Straight Talk Throttles Case by Case

From today's Fierce Wireless:

TracFone's Straight Talk service provided a few more details on its newly launched Apple iPhone service. The company said that it does not limit subscribers' data usage at a specific threshold; instead, it evaluates customers' data intake on a case-by-case basis and will throttle the speeds of those users who the company deems to be consuming too much data.

On its website, Straight Talk claims its iPhone plans can save users up to $950 a year in service fees.

A Straight Talk spokesperson told FierceWireless that "continuous video streaming" and other data-heavy services could cause a user to consume too much data, in which case the company would contact the user and warn them of a possible slowdown in their data speeds. The spokesperson, who declined to be named due to company policy, wasn't immediately available to provide details, including Straight Talk's terms of service.

The news is notable considering Straight Talk was rumored to throttle iPhone users' data speeds after a 2 GB per month limit. However, the company's spokesperson said Straight Talk does not have a specific usage cap, and instead will throttle the speeds of "excessive" data users in order to provide quality service to its entire customer base. The spokesperson repeatedly pointed out that the vast majority of Straight Talk's users are pleased with the service and that most wouldn't run afoul of the company's data monitoring.

Straight Talk isn't the only wireless company to employ this kind of case-by-case approach to throttling. Clearwire in 2010 announced a network management system that allows the company to selectively throttle the data speeds of heavy data users.

The Straight Talk spokesperson also confirmed to FierceWireless that Straight Talk does not support the iPhone's "Personal Hotspot" function. The service allows iPhone users to broadcast a Wi-Fi connection from their phone, thereby connecting other devices like laptops and tablets to their iPhone's cellular Internet connection. Such scenarios can chew through a significant amount of data, and most MVNOs do not support personal hotspots.

However, there remain questions about Straight Talk's iPhone service. The company's spokesperson could not immediately say whether the company's iPhone 5 is able to connect to LTE networks. Support for LTE was a major feature Apple trumpeted in announcing the iPhone 5 last year.

América Móvil's U.S. MVNO TracFone Wireless announced earlier this month that its Straight Talk brand would sell Apple's iPhone, including the LTE-capable iPhone 5, coupled with unlimited talking, texting and data starting at $45 per month--significantly cheaper than what other carriers charge. Although neither company would confirm the relationship, Verizon Wireless likely provides service to Straight Talk's iPhones. Last week, Straight Talk announced it would also support existing GSM iPhones that users port to the service.

The Straight Talk spokesperson also confirmed that the company's iPhone financing plans, supplied by Straight Talk retail partner Walmart, are only available on the 16 GB iPhone 5 and the 8 GB iPhone 4. The financing plans allow Walmart shoppers to pay for the devices in monthly installments of $25.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

AT&T Buys Alltel

Atlantic Tele-Network announced today that they are selling their Alltel wireless network and customers to AT&T.  We had hoped this day would not come, but if it did, the sale would be to a smaller company.  The new Alltel had a number of advantages and customers were lucky to still have them as a choice in their six-state service area.  Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.

The biggest disappointment is that Alltel was allowed to survive just to keep Verizon  from being too dominant from its purchase of the old Alltel network.  Instead, AT&T will become that much more dominant in rural areas of the US.  Atlantic Tele-Network make a good effort to make Alltel a viable competitor, but with declining subscriber numbers, a sale looked inevitable.  We had hoped that it would have been to anybody but the Top 4.  After AT&T's failed purchse of T-Mobile, this purchase seems like chump change.  A quick glance at Alltel vs. AT&T coverage shows there's little reason for the FCC or DOJ to object to the purchase.  If any spinoffs are required, who could buy them?  Verizon?  We will have come full circle.  Hopefully, they could keep a few of the sites in the Comnnet Wireless family, if they survive.

Alltel was still one of the Top 10 carriers in the US and their fate may be shared with some of the other lower-top 10 companies like Cincinnati Bell, C Spire and even US Cellular.  Sadly, these 3 carriers also happen to dominate the top of our Mountain Wireless Ratings.  We do not dislike AT&T, we just don't like losing customer choice.  As our US networks get bigger, our wireless experience gets worse.  But hey, you get a new phone!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prepaid & Taxes

As we get more of our wireless products from Prepaid sources, more gotchas pop up.  The most frustrating unforeseen circumstance is Taxes.  There was a time when a $50 prepaid refill cost only $50, any taxes or fees were covered by the Prepaid provider.  Now those extra charges appear on some of the Prepaid costs.  When I buy a prepaid phone from a retailer like Wal-Mart or Target, I pay the usual sales taxes, but I am now also charged  fees that presumably go toward local 911 services.  OK, I'm good with supporting my own community.

The next charge that seems a bit of a surprise is the taxes and fees that are added to our Straight Talk (and supposedly all the TracFone-related companies) monthly unlimited plan.  With an online refill (Straight Talk calls it "buying a service plan"), they add taxes and 911 fees that adds about $3.83 to the $45 Unlimited plan.  I'm OK with that, too.  Then comes the final checkout which appears as a nice round $50 charge.  Wait.  Where did the extra $1.17 go?  Other fees?  Extra profit?  A donation to the Red Cross?

The big picture is this is still a savings over postpaid charges from the large wireless carriers, but after a number of nickles and dimes, much less so.  What raises our rankles even more are the lack of such extra charges from some of the other Prepaid providers.  Our favorite T-Mobile Prepaid plan, $30 for 5Gb & 100 minutes, is still only $30.  Even further consideration goes to those Prepaid refills that are available for as much as 10% off, such as those on AT&T GoPhone from our own Mountain Prepaid site. 

Of course all this can change at any time and there are indeed a number of strategies to avoid those extra and "mystery" charges (like switching services or where you buy your refills).  We'll try to keep you on top of who is charging extra across our various web sites and how it affects your Prepaid costs.  It's now about telling the good guys from the bad guys.  Oh, and saving money.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Now the Sites Go Mobile

Last month much of our time was spent using mobile wireless on the road and less here online.  This month it's our web sites that are going mobile.  We took quite a bit of time evaluating if and how we could add mobile-optimized sites to our network of wireless web sites.  Some sites just don't lend themselves to the smaller screen but we have converted some of those that do.  The sites that are now available for mobile are:
There are many ways to display mobile-optimized content and there are a number of mobile devices that show 'regular' web sites just fine, so we will evaluate how these pages work before we go further.  For now, they are nearly identical but separate sites, which means double the work.  With a little help, we might be able to streamline the process, but it's all about time and money...not enough of either.

Next, look for our continued experiences with our prepaid calling and data plans.