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."