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.