Tuesday, December 1, 2015

No Sweat Roaming in Europe

For my latest trip to Europe I wasn't sure what to use for wireless service other than one of the relatively expensive regular plans from one of the top 4 carriers.  It might be worth it to subscribe for just one month, but I thought there must be a cheaper way.  This is what I did, instead:

I installed Google Hangouts in my GSM smart phone (including the Hangouts Dialer) and connected Hangouts and my voice mail to my Google Voice number. (You can also forward your own number to Google Voice)  Upon arrival in Europe I purchased a local SIM at an airport newsstand. The one I chose was Lebara Mobile which cost $3US, with the lowest topup at $23US.  Check their leaflet to choose a plan and text the plan name to a short code number.

Once my phone acquired a 4G signal, I was receiving incoming calls to my US number and voice mail notifications through Hangouts on the broadband connection.  I was able to make local calls through the regular dialer at about a penny per minute.  Calls to the US completed through Hangouts were free.

The only challenge was where to the buy the SIM.  There are "SIM" stores that charge about twice as much as other sources.  Instead, you can buy a local SIM from almost any airport newsstand and even from vending machines for much less.  SIM's can be purchased in the US, but then they must be shipped.  I can't think that far ahead.  This was easier and cheaper than I thought possible. I received free calls to my normal US number, I called the US for free, I called UK numbers for about .02USD/min. and had 4G broadband access everywhere.  What a trip!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mexico Roaming Goes Mainstream

AT&T invested in Mexico with the hopes that they could tap a market that could grow significantly with a growing number of Data users.  The secondary objective was to create a "borderless" North American market where AT&T would be the go-to provider for users who wanted to travel freely with cellular between the US and Mexico.  It is that secondary project that gave us all hope for seamless wireless travel across the continent.  As expected, this kicked off a flurry of competitive plans that gave actually us more than what we expected: Cheap Roaming for Talk, Text and Data!

As frequent Mexico travelers we tried to address the challenges on Mexico Cellular.  Our most popular Mexico Roaming solution was a Mexico "Travel" phone, a choice of a low-cost GSM phone or SIM from AT&T GoPhone.  We also recommended a few other alternatives, but all of them now have limited usefulness.  Most carriers currently offer either FREE or low-cost Mexico Roaming.  The only mainstream providers that don't are US Cellular, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and, oddly, the Mexican-owned America Movil networks (with the exception of TelCel America).  We can't help but think America Movil will jump on the bandwagon as well.  The travel phone concept still works for those of us who use the low-cost providers like PTel, Red Pocket and the America Movil companies (Tracfone, PagePlus, NET10, StraightTalk and others).  As we said last winter, this may still be an evolving process, but we sure like what has happened so far.

AT&T's actions have also sparked the Mexico networks to speed up their own upgrades toward faster broadband which will benefit US travelers using whichever Mexico network for roaming.  We currently favor AT&T's Cricket Wireless now that they offer full North American roaming as well as well-priced US service, and the potential of accessing the better AT&T 4G-LTE network in Mexico.  There should be more to come in this arena.  Yes, we can travel thousands of miles away to a warm Mexican beach and still be able to completely remove ourselves from our surroundings...just like home.  Be careful what you wish for.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

T-Mobile Fixes Their Weakest Link

We admire many of T-Mobile's recent marketing tactics which have forced many of the other carriers to compete more aggressively.  Would you ever switch to T-Mobile?  Most visitors to this site would claim T-Mobile's coverage has too many holes to entice us away, and I would agree.  But we may be wrong.

T-Mobile did not participate in the FCC auction that offered 700 MHz spectrum which provides better coverage than almost all other cellular channels.  However, they did buy up quite a bit of that spectrum from others later to provide new, robust coverage in mostly rural areas.  We're seeing ads for T-Mobile's, "New Extended Range" coverage...but should we believe it?  I too was skeptical until I realized that T-Mobile has indeed added significant coverage in many areas using these superior 700 MHz channels.  Not everyplace, but some really significant places.  These are the channels given up by TV stations back in 2009 when you and I had to get a digital converter to keep our old analog TV working (I still use mine).

The only limitation to this improved coverage is that we need to use a 700 MHz device, or "4G LTE Compatible."  This includes many of T-Mobile's newest phones including the iPhone 6S.  Yes, that means older iPhones can't go there.  But when you do go there, it's real 4G LTE, not the old HSPA. They're helping all of us by pressuring the other carriers into improving their product now that T-Mobile has checked off one more objection to their network.  Coverage...what a gimmick!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

More Lost Carriers We Don't Care About

It has been unnerving to see the real cellular carriers disappear, some of which were top performers among our Mountain Wireless Ratings.  Then there is the handful of prepaid carriers that sort of came and went without much notice.  PrepaYd (yes, with a "Y") and Voyager Wireless made an attempt at prepaid success and eventually threw in the towel.  Target made a much more feeble try at wireless with their Brightspot Wireless (named after their dog, Spot?).  Even Kroger has been able to maintain their own, iWireless.

All of these "Secondary" wireless companies are MVNO's (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) who just use the network facilities of the top carriers that own the towers and sites and such, and these MVNO's can just go into business with a desk, a phone and a website.  Such is the case with a handful of other prepaid companies who may also just fade away without notice.  Walmart has started 3 prepaid services of their own and we wonder how many of these will survive.

If the major carriers continue to cut prices on their own prepaid product (Cricket, MetroPCS, Boost, etc.), the small guys who don't operate efficiently will be pushed aside.  Does that mean higher prices again some day?  Probably not...as long as most of the MVNO's stay sane and competitive, and no more retail chains think they can make their own wireless product.  Even Jennifer Lopez tried her own wireless and had to say, "adios."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

New Brand in Mexico: AT&T

AT&T has chosen the AT&T name for its new wireless product in Mexico.  They have combined the Iusacel and Nextel networks, started to add more cell sites, are upgrading the entire network to 4G-LTE, and should offer a very competitive product south of the border.  So, how do you pronounce "AT&T" in Mexico?  It should be: AH-TAY-Y-TAY...but their ads say A-TEE-N-TEE instead.

At MexicoCellular.com we now show AT&T as an official Mexico carrier and added Unefon as their prepaid brand, somewhat like GoPhone in the US.  Additionally, AT&T has expanded the international calling abilities of their Cricket Wireless prepaid brand to include most of the western hemisphere as a reasonable add-on.  The world indeed seems smaller.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

3 More Networks to Exit

Wireless network consolidation continues.  NTelos, a player in the Virginias has sold some of their spectrum to T-Mobile and the rest of their network and customers to Shenandoah Telecom.  Shenandoah, a.k.a. Shentel is an affiliate of Sprint which means if you live in the Shentel area, your service looks, feels and smells just like Sprint...right down to the name on the stores.  NTelos has been one of our favorite networks.  At least their customers will not suffer any degradation in service.

A carrier in northeast Pennsylvania, NEP Wireless, is giving up their cellular operations.  AT&T bought their spectrum but not necessarily the network or their customers.  NEP users are free to go where they want.  Some transactions like this maintain the contract with the new carrier.  Not in this case.  AT&T may need to provide some incentives, even if it's just to bring your own phone.  NEP is going officially pull the switch on September 22nd of this year.

The other network slip sliding away is MTA Wireless in Alaska.  They haven't announced any shutdown of their existing network, but if you want to sign up with a nice new Smart phone, you need to sign up with Verizon, and MTA is an official retailer of Verizon products.  Verizon used MTA's newly-acquired spectrum to build their own 4G-LTE network and made it available to MTA users.  So, Verizon may or may not take over the MTA network, they really can take it or leave it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Your Mexico Coverage

It was a big deal when AT&T purchased 2 of the wireless networks in Mexico.  There was hope that someday US vacationers could use their phones in Mexico just like they do at home.  While AT&T gears up to spend Billions to upgrade their new networks, T-Mobile comes up with a deal that opens that door, today, and for a much lower cost.  T-Mobile's roamers use the best Mexico networks available...today...and we get Canada thrown in, too.  In our world this also means Cricket Wireless, GoPhone and MetroPCS change their roaming story as well.

It's no small deal that AT&T customers get no data roaming...yet...and T-Mobile's do.  Of course this will change sometime in the future.  AT&T will construct a 4G LTE network and data will be included for Mexico roamers, but they may end up playing catchup for years.

To the benefit of Mexican wireless users, the other wireless networks in Mexico have also promised  Billions to improve their own networks to 4G LTE as well, which will also benefit T-Mobile roamers. We have no idea what will happen in Canada.  AT&T probably won't buy a network there.  They will need to eventually do what T-Mobile has already done.  Not only has the magenta network invaded the rest of North America with a pen, they continue to disrupt the wireless landscape in the US with a better idea.

Sprint is coming out with a similar plan, Open World, which offers free calls, text and Data while roaming in Mexico, Canada, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.  There may be some limits with this plan unless your Sprint phone includes GSM circuitry.

We're following the deals at MexicoCellular.com.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Google Fi: New Opportunity, New Problem

Google's introduction of "Project Fi" (as in Wi-Fi without the "Wi") provides a unique opportunity.  Your can use whatever signal your phone can access among Wi-Fi, T-Mobile and Sprint broadband sources.  Google has changed the pricing and technical profile of using wireless, and usually, most things that Google touches benefits the average consumer.

So, does this mean Google will be an "MVNO", or a re-seller of network access from 2 of the top 4 wireless carriers, or something else?  As we peek over the horizon, instead of expecting the major carriers doing something different to compete,  we see other MVNO's going in the same direction and offering some kind of network combination.  Our challenge is to find where to classify Google's wireless.  Is it "Wireless," "Prepaid," or "Broadband"?  Instead of waiting to see what direction it goes, we'll just include it in every related corner of our Mountain Wireless Cellular networks and see if we can do our part to help this innovation grow.

To get in on the first round of the fun you only need a Gmail account and to request an "invite", which is similar to the start of other Google projects.  Then, let the wireless innovation begin.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Sprint Expands Foreign Roaming

Sprint has finally come to the table with an International Roaming package that finally puts them at par with the other major carriers.  Aggressive pricing, paying ETF's and Unlimited Data can only go so far. Now Sprint will offer a competitive International Roaming Value package that allows Text, Voice and Data at reasonable rates.  They also offer a Wi-Fi calling app that puts them into T-Mobile's arena that expands calling abilities to many extreme corners of the house and the globe.

Recognizing overall service improvements, Mountain Wireless has increased Sprint's "MW Rating" from a dismal "6" to a respectable "7".  Positive field reports from Sprint users might even improve that rating again.

We have noted these changes on our Mexico and International Roaming web sites. One odditiy is that none of these improvements include service in Canada.  We hope that's coming soon.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

GoPhone Goes Awry

As wireless customers just like you, we get to encounter various levels of customer service. I deal more with wireless resellers (MVNO's) who do a good job handling customers online. Recently, I tried to activate an AT&T GoPhone SIM for short-time use which normally involves just assigning a phone number and plan to a SIM.  Easy, right?

We normally head to the nearest AT&T store where they can set up a new GoPhone SIM, plan and number within minutes.  Lately, the AT&T store has been too busy.  Business is good, and that's OK. An agent threw me a new SIM and told me to activate it online...unless I wanted to wait. Fair enough.

However, I could find no way to activate a plain AT&T SIM online.  If I could get far enough to choose a plan, there is no option for the "10 Cents a Minute" plan (because I have a Smart phone?). Failing that, I am directed to call a certain phone number to activate a GoPhone SIM. That person there could not do what I wanted...the computer wouldn't let her.  Why not?

She eventually transferred me to "customer service". The person I spoke with there had a heavy foreign accent but knew exactly what to do and asked for no more than my ZIP Code, SIM number and desired plan.  Done!  I was able to add my own Discount Refill and life was back to normal.

GoPhone is good but I can see why the Prepaid re-sellers can make inroads on the major carriers.  For the MVNO's, Prepaid is their main business.  For AT&T, and possibly others, Prepaid still gets second class status...unless you connect with the right department, by choice or by accident.  Or, how about online?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The PTCI Network Upgrades

It's always great to see one of the smallest networks make a significant upgrade to their network.  Recently, PTCI wireless, in the Oklahoma Panhandle, decided not only to upgrade to 4G, they also took the bold step to switch the entire network to GSM.  They now claim a roaming relationship with AT&T that will serve their customers better than before, and we agree.

So far this year there have been few network shutdowns.  There are several carriers who are barely holding on so we expect this to be a temporary situation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


For the last few months we have been encouraged to make all of our web sites more "mobile-friendly."  We have spent hours doing just that and have not been adding any blog posts.  Most of the big news has been available elsewhere but there have been a few stories among large and small carriers worth noting.

So far, our biggest story is AT&T's entry into Mexico.  After purchasing 2 wireless networks there, what will happen next?  AT&T has already said they will upgrade coverage to 4G LTE.  What else?  TelCel will probably shrink, either their network or their customer base, which is required by Mexican law.

The next step is less clear.  Will AT&T start using a new name, or perhaps just...AT&T?  Will across-the-border wireless roaming become transparent? Will T-Mobile need to find a way to charge less than their $1.79 per minute roaming charges (.20 per minute on some plans)?  And what happens to Verizon and Sprint CDMA roamers?  AT&T already owns the only CDMA network in Mexico (Iusacel).  Why keep it running?  Fortunately, the future is mostly 4G, so many newer phones will just need a SIM compatible with the new AT&T Mexican network.  And how about Data roaming?

We need to have some competition from other US carriers just so AT&T will be encouraged to create the kind of beneficial deals they will be capable of providing.  Also, keep watching Cricket Wireless who will be using their Mexico advantages in the prepaid arena.  This is almost a daily project for our Mexico Cellular web site.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Total Wireless Competition

There is now quite a bit of wireless competition at the $35 level but it has been mostly for people using GSM phones.  For users with CDMA phones, mostly from Verizon Wireless, there has been just one easy choice...Page Plus.  Now there is another: Total Wireless.  Total is being offered by the company that owns Page Plus, America Movil, so, yes, they are competing against themselves.

The Total Wireless product was created to be sold at Walmart, but savvy visitors here know it is also available online, just like Straight Talk, also a Walmart/America Movil product.  Just like Straight Talk, you get Unlimited Talk & Text and up to 2.5 Gb of data for 30 days, but unlike Straight Talk, it only costs $35, plus tax.

This seems to be a method of Walmart and America Movil to compete at this price level without affecting Straight Talk and other existing customers who will remain at the $45 level for (almost) the same product.  "Almost" means Total Wireless is limited to 3G which Verizon probably supplies at a good wholesale price as they shift their own customers to 4G channels.  Keep in mind all America Movil products also add sales tax which is not added by some competitors.  Cricket Wireless is one $35 competitor that not only doesn't add tax, but also provides 4G coverage.

We have talked about Walmart as being a real wireless player before, and now you can play 'find the cheapest plan' at your nearest Wally World, or even online.

Monday, January 26, 2015

AT&T Expands Deeper into Mexico

AT&T has agreed to buy another Mexican wireless carrier, Nextel of Mexico.  This will be combined with their now-completed purchase of Iusacell of Mexico to create a wireless carrier with excellent coverage across the entire country.  It means that AT&T (and Cricket) will have a substantial advantage over other US wireless carriers when offering roaming in Mexico.  It also means Mexico wireless users will soon have top notch wireless broadband available as AT&T improves both networks to 4G LTE.

As frequent Mexico travelers, we'll offer continuous updates on the AT&T acquisitions and what it means to US wireless users.  We expect big changes in what we recommend on our Mexico Cellular pages. We also expect some other US carrier will try to remain competitive, otherwise, we'll just recommend switching to AT&T and head for the beach.

As this unfolds, we have added AT&T as a "local" carrier at Mexico Cellular and you can also check our Mexico Coverage Maps including zoomable, Mexico Interactive Maps.  Then head for the beach.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Putting on a Low-Cost Disguise

Last year, AT&T and T-Mobile entered a new mode of competition by acquiring some old networks.  Both companies picked up some spectrum, some customers, but more importantly, a way to compete in the low-cost arena without diluting their main brand.

Picking up a Cricket Wireless phone gives you a slick way to get "AT&T Light".  It's AT&T with a, "We'll do what it takes to compete" way to doing business.  The same is true with MetroPCS which gives T-Mobile a chance to push the low end without cheapening the T-Mobile name.  Both services have much to offer including a large selection of phones and competitive plans.  They both even have a Mexico roaming package.

As I drove across eastern New Mexico at Christmas, I noticed that my Straight Talk phone never switched away from "AT&T" instead of the old "Roaming" label it displayed last time (which happened to be GSM supplied by Verizon).  In this case, AT&T has taken over their recently-purchased Plateau Wireless network, eliminating my last objection to going with a single-network product like Cricket.  Of course I won't want to travel across Nebraska until AT&T makes a presence there.

As we dissect each of carrier's offers, the only difference we can find is that Cricket's Mexico add-on gives you 100 minutes for $10 versus MetroPCS's 200 minutes for the same fee.  Both are a great deal since going to Mexico either required a pricey roaming plan or the need to pick up a GoPhone phone or SIM.  Look for reasonable Mexico Data roaming charges in the near future when AT&T acquires their own network in Mexico, which should also give Cricket a leg up.  Chirp-chirp.