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.