Monday, December 26, 2016

911 in Mexico Update

I know it's rough duty, but I'm sitting on the beach along the Baja Peninsula in Mexico testing wireless, and various flavors of tequila, available south of the border.  Use of 911 as the official number for all emergencies in Mexico was to have officially started October 3rd of 2016.  Rollout was to have occurred in 16 states across Mexico, not including Mexico City, and it may have.  From my perspective here in one of the "official" states, it's not an obvious change. There are still signs along roads, posted at police and highway facilities, even on ambulances, showing the previous emergency numbers, 074, 066, etc.  The multiplicity of numbers is part of reason for the change.

There have been memes and articles criticizing the change, which was originally scheduled to start on the first of 2016.  The 911 task force understands there are challenges to the implementation, not the least of which are the thousands of regular phone numbers that begin with "911..." which must be changed to reduce mis-directed calls.

Fortunately for the US tourist, the majority of US phones that roam in Mexico will automatically interpret a call to 911 as one looking for a local emergency number, and find it.  It should give us some comfort, especially since the incentive to choose a single national emergency number came after a tragic event that ocurred in Mexico in 2014.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Your Phone with MORE Numbers

It was just last week we commented that your wireless phone number has become a secondary consideration for your smart phone.  Today, T-Mobile announced they will take that idea one step further.  They will now allow you to ring your wireless phone with multiple numbers, even from other carriers, or enable your number to ring all of your devices.

While this isn't a complicated scheme, T-Mobile is doing it with normal calling channels, not as a work-around VoIP app.  This also could be compared to the multi-functional Google Voice features.  T-Mobile calls their new feature, "DIGITS" and it will be device-dependent, but they are incorporating it in a growing number of devices.  For now, you would be using DIGITS as a beta function, but the technology is not that experimental.

While the other wireless carriers can probably add this feature without too much difficulty, it's T-Mobile who has the courage to upset their own apple cart.  It makes us wonder why carriers haven't tried more of these creative features.  Can they be afraid of changing the status quo?  In the words of Mike Sievert, Chief Operating Officer of T-Mobile, “DIGITS is breakthrough technology that won’t be replicated any time soon.”  So, once again, not only is T-Mobile disrupting the status quo, they're throwing out a challenge to other carriers, 'catch us if you can.'

Friday, December 2, 2016

Contemplating a Move to Canada?

Up north wireless is different.  In Canada, there are only 3 national carriers, compared to 4 in the US.  Canada is an example of what would happen if we had only a "Top 3": high prices.  Canadian wireless users keep hoping that their federal government will issue spectrum and licenses to enable the existence of a 4th major carrier...which they have done...but a new national network has not been created.  It's too big of a project to build that much new wireless infrastructure.  So the crumbs tossed out by their government have been gobbled up mostly by existing players.

What has happened is the some of the smaller players that users had hoped to someday grow big and be competitive, have gone in different directions.  What was Mobilicity has been acquired by Rogers Wireless and absorbed into Chatr Mobile.  This is similar to T-Mobile taking over MetroPCS.  Chatr offers different price points and the same coverage as Rogers, but nobody's giving away the store.

The other change was the acquisition of Wind Mobile, Canada's last hope for wireless salvation.  They were purchased by one of Canada's major cable companies, Shaw Communications, and the name was changed to Freedom Mobile. Hopes were dashed when Freedom sold their licenses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to local operators in those provinces.  This funded Freedom's upgrade of 4G-LTE coverage in other areas, but requires their customers to roam outside their home service area, which is still quite small, and some of which is limited to higher AWS frequencies.  Freedom does offer cheaper local plans and better deals for roaming into the US, but they can't offer the iPhone.  Freedom's moves don't seem to affect the top 3, so the game continues, and the prices remain higher than in the US. Lucky us. And it's why we can't let any of our top 4 carriers merge.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Your Phone Without a Number

When flip phones gave way to Smart phones, we asked, "What's next?"  Now that the phone has become a 'device', the actual use of this unit is for data access and not so much as a 'telephone'. Making calls has fallen for many users to the point where voice calls and text messages are just another app, and no longer the primary use of the device.

This has led to cheaper,  'data-only' plans, and your phone number is no longer the domain of your wireless carrier.  I was hit with this reality while roaming in Europe where I only needed a SIM for data access, not a plan that enabled calls to the US or locally.  All you need is a data SIM.  You bypass the need for identification and you make whatever calls you want with an app...for free, and only if you don't lose any prepaid minutes.  This has been the basis for "Wi-fi Calling" but just as easy on any data-connected device.

In our case, we used Google Hangouts (and the Hangouts Dialer) for outgoing calls, and Google Voice and Hangouts for incoming calls.  If configured properly, your Google Voice number shows on Caller ID.  You know what, this sounds complicated.  But after you use it, you begin to realize this is revolutionary...and just as usable at home as it is for roaming.  At worse, your outgoing calls show a Caller ID of "unknown number", because your call has no number.  Because a number we no longer need.  Us cheapskates are cheering.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

911 Becomes Emergency Number in Mexico

For travelers considering a trip to Mexico, "911" is now the official number for all emergencies there.  This is a trend in several countries as they give in to the large number of users who consider "911" as the universal number for emergencies, regardless of where they are located.  Mexico made the decision to switch to "911" in 2016 after wandering all over the keypad with multiple 3-digit numbers for various services.  Now, "911" connects you to all Mexico emergency services: fire, ambulance, police, Red Cross and others.

For many years, most US phones operating in Mexico would automatically convert a call entered as "911" to the proper emergency number.  Even that was a moving target.  Now you press "911" from both wired and wireless phones.  The decison was among those made as a result of the the mass kidnapping and murders in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico on September 26, 2014.

We have added this tip to our Mexico Calling Procedures Page that you should consult before your next trip South of the Border.  As in the US, don't save "911" in your phone's address book.  It's the cause of the greatest number of erroneous 911 calls.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Wireless in a Test (Tube) Market

A sharp-eyed reader noted that the network in central Pennsylvania, formerly known as Immix Wireless, is now up and running as Limitless Mobile.  In checking further how this network can rise from the ashes we found that it may be a demonstration project for the larger, UK-based Limitless Mobile corporation.  In this case, local residents may benefit from a well-run network that does not necessarily depend on a certain number of customers to stay in business.  They may be using their facilities to show how they can supply other wireless companies services to keep their own operations running.

Limitless Mobile in a 'show and tell' position gives us hope for an oasis of good wireless operation and coverage.  If they mess up there, why would anyone use any of their other services?  And some of those services include home wireless internet which can be bundled nicely with their mobile wireless plans.  We bid the scientists in the wireless laboratory in Harrisburg a glass half-full.

Friday, November 4, 2016

ClearTalk Wireless Disappears in the East

Our specialty at the Mountain Wireless web site is reports and reviews of all the wireless carriers in the US, large and small.  In some cases, carriers that sell out or give up are fairly clear about what they're doing.  One network that has not been clear is ClearTalk.  They built networks in several areas of the US and then sold off some of the pieces to other companies, most notably, Sprint.  In this year's update we found ClearTalk no longer serves any markets in the eastern US which we had listed as in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Multiple calls have produced no updated information other than they still maintain networks in Texas, California and Arizona.  Their web site states they also have local coverage in Colorado and New Mexico, but agents tell us there are "no local stores there," implying they no longer maintain a network there, either.

While this is a very small piece of the wireless pie, we feel it's an indication of how a company that doesn't, or can't, serve their customers well, can expect their business to deteriorate.  We understand that some small carriers exist only until the owners find a buyer or that the electric bill runs higher than the money coming in.  So, when parts of a network just disappear, we're concerned about the viability of the other parts.  We hope ClearTalk's old properties went to a good home.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Verizon Drops Cheaper Prepaid

We thought Verizon Wireless would consider the future of wireless as prepaid, but they have done exactly the opposite and dumped some of their lowest-priced Prepaid plans.  As reported in Prepaid Phone News, Verizon has dropped a few of their Prepaid plans, probably to keep from eroding their postpaid numbers.

Recently we reported that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo quoted, "quite honestly, we use the TracFone brand as our prepaid product." At that time we thought the world of monthly phone payments and cheaper prepaid plans would cause Verizon to change their minds.  Not so.  Instead, they're handing the low end of the market to alternative carriers who deal with a lower profit margin and then, in some cases, send a nice check to Verizon each month.

This may mean that with Verizon avoiding the lowest part of the prepaid market, we may all see a wider variety of prepaid plans that could lower our wireless cost.  What used to be a place to help you switch to Prepaid wireless, our Mountain Prepaid web site is now the source to help you select from the myriad of choices of Prepaid providers who offer service as good as the main carriers.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Coverage: People vs. Property

There have been tremendous claims of improved coverage for the #3 and #4 wireless carriers but what's the real story?  It's fairly accepted that Verizon and AT&T have coverage over a large part of the United States...maybe 95%..  Then, you have Sprint and T-Mobile who have coverage over a much smaller geographical area.  It could be less than 50%.

If we then introduce the "population covered" measurement, things change dramatically.  AT&T and Verizon probably cover closer to 98% of the population, where Sprint and T-Mobile cover a little less...let's just guess 93%.  Isn't that almost as good?  They're all within a 5% difference!  Remember, we not talking about reliability (you know, the "1% difference?")

Wait.  There's another measurement.  Coverage for where we travel.  Some of us may never leave town and some often fly over those vast areas of uncovered real estate.  Then there are those of us who wander just a little farther out of town and...out of coverage.  So we stop being the 90-somethings, and start being the 50-somethings.  T-Mobile has actually done something about their rural coverage gaps and continues to agressively acquire spectrum in the 700 MHz band.  They indeed cover a bigger per cent of America.  That's better than a bigger per cent of Americans.  Did you catch the nuance?

For some of us it seems silly to point out the difference.  But when you hear a carrier claim they cover "95% of Americans" out.  Those are the Americans who stay on the couch and munch potato chips.  The rest of us may tend to wander.

Friday, October 21, 2016

T-Mobile & AT&T Now Roam in Cuba

This week all 4 major US carriers now allow their customers to roam in Cuba.  With voice charges as high as $2/minute, it seems like a reversion to the old days of cellular roaming, but roaming in Cuba is a big deal.  Data roaming is an even bigger deal in that even wi-fi is not yet widely available.  When you do find wi-fi, some carriers, most notably T-Mobile, allow FREE calling to the US with Wi-fi Calling.  The trick is finding free wi-fi.

This is an unusual situation in that the CDMA carriers offered roaming before the GSM carriers in a GSM country.  We have an updated report on wireless roaming in Cuba at  There you will find options for calling both TO and FROM Cuba.  In some parts of the US readers are wondering 'what's the big deal?'  The closer you get to Florida, the bigger a deal this is, and someday we may travel to Cuba as readily as Canada or Mexico.  It's a short trip and a different world.  It's good to have our phones now work there.

For those of us who don't have the right plan or are using Prepaid, Mobal Wireless can provide a SIM we can drop in our phone that roams in Cuba.  Also, visitors returning from Cuba advise you use your phone discreetly in Cuba.  There is a certain amount of resentment toward visitors to Cuba showing their weath in a such a poor country.  Now let's hope technology can get the price down.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Choice Wireless Buys Innovative Mobile in USVI

It's a great Caribbean vacation destination, they use US dollars, speak English and your phone should roam there.  It's the US Virgin Islands.  Choice Wireless has been the middle carrier there but stands to get a whole lot better now that they have acquired the less-developed Innovative Mobile.  Overall coverage stands to improve with the combination of the 2 networks and Innovative also brings a collection of other communications features to the Choice family.

Choice is the retail arm of ATN International, the company that owns Commnet Wireless who specializes in wireless to smaller and less-developed places in North America.  Commnet has a relationship with all the major US carriers, so we expect wireless roaming to improve for both Island customers and roamers from the mainland.

The only hurtle we see is that Choice is CDMA and Innovative is GSM, so there won't be an overnight improvement after merging networks.  Choice (and Commnet) have often offered both technologies from their cell sites, so improvements may be much more transparent than other network conversions.  It may depend on who gets the most roaming traffic.  AT&T already provides good GSM coverage across the islands, so maybe CDMA will get the upper hand.  Either way, wireless coverage will get better and 4G will become more widely available, so pick one, and we'll take it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Coverage Maps Now Tell Only Half the Story.

We recently retired our 3G map page due to a lack of interest.  I remember when wireless users wanted to find which carrier had the most 3G coverage.  Then 3G became the "bargain" spectrum for users of secondary or prepaid carriers.  Now, the 4G Maps have become the mainstream and we have actually prepared for 5G coverage maps.

However, the top 4 carriers have thrown us a curve.  In the effort to offer wireless users the most broadband possible, as soon as possible, most carriers now offer multi-band combinations to "broaden" the broadband by using more than one frequency band.  Known by names such as "Multiple Input Multiple Output" or "Carrier Aggregation,"  carriers use different pieces of their spectrum assignments to total a fat wireless pipe of Data.

Our concern is if this makes our 4G Maps less useful.  Data downloads now may vary considerably based on location when multi-band data is being used.  Since most of these combinations are found in urban areas we feel indications like the white dots on the Verizon Advanced LTE map may be the only accurate indication of where to find 4G+ coverage.  Therefore, on a national basis, it may be all we need and it also may be all we will see with forthcoming 5G coverage.  If this changes, we'll be on top of it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One Less Cellular One

Is it news that another Cellular One disappears?  This year Cellular One of Eastern Illinois sold out to AT&T.  The loss of a very small carrier doesn't move the needle and should mean improved service for Illinois wireless customers.  We expect moderate upgrades including more 4G - LTE coverage in exchange for adopting AT&T plans and prices.

The Cellular One Illinois network has excellent rural coverage and should serve AT&T customers well.  In past years we had hoped that all these small carriers would hook up with each other to create a viable fifth or sixth network but now we feel fortunate to have four major carriers.  Our friends in Canada still dream of having a fourth national carrier so, while we read the writing on the wall for the remaining small carriers, we'll enjoy the good things we have.

Make sure when considering a new or cheaper source for wireless service, check the entire list of carriers that serve your neighborhood on our local cellular pages.  Choose while you can.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sale on Plans at Page Plus

My family has several Page Plus phones.  Three of these phones have Auto-Refill and, after recently adding a new 'glove-box' phone, I discovered that Page Plus is offering a new discount for Auto-Refill.  Some of these discounts are as much as 16%!  Even if you already have Auto-Refill on your plans, you can delete the old refill, re-add it, and you'll get the new price.

Page Plus is an America Movil Prepaid and offers some of the lowest-priced plans for both Pay-As-You-Go and Monthly plans, including Data.  They occasionally offer Auto-Refill discounts on other America Movil accounts, but you may miss it, especially if you already have Auto-Refill.  We don't get any compensation for this tip (although we do offer Discount Page Plus Refills at Mountain Prepaid), but the more popular these deals are, the more Page Plus can afford to do these promotions.

If you have an old Verizon phone, Page Plus is one of the least expensive ways to maintain a second or low-cost wireless account.  While Page Plus charges for roaming off the Verizon Wireless network, that rarely happens, and some Prepaids don't allow off-network roaming at all.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Installing a Wireless Home Phone

For years we've supplied information about going totally wireless at home, and this week we helped a family member do just that.  He rents his apartment for part of the year and the management company requires a "fixed" phone hanging on the wall or the counter.  We happened to use the Straight Talk Wireless Home Phone, but you can also use replacements from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Net10, Sprint, and some 3rd party suppliers. Straight Talk does indeed cut your phone bill in half...his monthly charge went from $32 to $16, including taxes and fees.

The model we used is the Straight Talk Huawei H223C ("C" as in CDMA) which is available at Walmart and directly from Straight Talk.  The "C" models use the Verizon Wireless network. Prices range from FREE to $50.  Our friend bought a new model at for $30 and then a backup refurbished unit for FREE for the price of a $15 refill card from Straight Talk.  Following the instructions in the box he was good to go within minutes. He filled the new phone with the refill card and set up Auto-Fill after that.  He started with a randomly-assigned number but later "ported" his wired line number to the new wireless box.  Straight Talk's customer service accomplished this fairly easily.

His tryout period gave him a chance to use the line like a short term renter with Call Forwarding and Voice Mail disabled.  Straight Talk was able to disable just those features and still allow Free Long Distance, Caller ID, Call Waiting, and 3-Way Calling.  After porting, his outgoing Caller ID changed from his billing name to just the calling location, another plus.

Overall, everything worked as planned.  Downsides include call quality that isn't quite as good as a landline, and when there is no answer, incoming callers hear, "The Verizon Wireless customer is not available..." which occurs after 30 seconds, or about 6 rings.  Who lets it ring more than 4 times?  The Huawei box is semi-hidden in a cabinet.  Most renters use their own cell phone but this option fulfills all the needs of the program and saves almost $200 a year.  We'll help you do all this at the Mountain Wireless Cut the Cord Page, with deals at the Moose Wireless Home Phone Page.

Friday, March 4, 2016

T-Mobile Acquires More Good Spectrum

A few month ago we gave T-Mobile credit for expanding their coverage across a large part of the country in the 700 MHz spectrum.  The 700 MHz band has superior coverage characteristics which has helped T-Mobile substantially improve performance in rural areas and inside buildings.  This year we have discovered that T-Mobile has completed even more deals for additional 700 MHz spectrum which now gives them majority ownership of the "A" channel of that 700 MHz allocation (subject to FCC approval).  You can view the assignment map for this newly-acquired spectrum on our Cellular Maps 700 MHz web page.

We have long been a fan of T-Mobile's competitive spirit, but this entry into such wide 700 MHz coverage makes them a substantial player.  Sprint, who has slipped into the #4 position among wireless carriers, also has substantial spectrum holdings, but they are located in higher frequency bands which do not carry as far or as deep as the 700 MHz bands.  While Sprint's assignments are adequate for now, their future coverage is in question as they are proposing to move the cell sites to "cheaper" locations.  It's one thing to say you're not going to expand your coverage, it's quite another to imply that coverage may change by moving sites.  let's hope it an idea that isn't carried out.

With T-Mobile settling in on some new spectrum allocations, they should also be able to fill in some of their still-needed territory with the upcoming 600 MHz auction coming later this year.  Sprint needs to move ahead, not cut back.  We still need all 4 carriers to survive and Sprint needs to at least stay above water.  They have been filling some areas with the Sprint Roaming Alliance, but those roaming partners are having even more challenges in staying afloat.

The focus was recently on price and capacity, it's great to see it's now back to more coverage is better.