Monday, February 27, 2017

Local Cellular Reviews: A Guessing Game?

We stuck out our necks and added a thumbnail review of wireless service in smaller local areas, based on individual states, the District of Columbia and US territories in the Caribbean.  We moved these observations from the state and regional pages to a single set of "Local" pages.

You're darn straight it's hard to call one carrier better than another, even in general terms.  But we can say things like which carriers don't serve certain states, like Nebraska, West Virgina and Alaska.  Our old reviews were too general when they included several states.

One of our main objectives is to make sure you don't miss some of the really good carriers like C Spire in Mississippi and Tennessee, Viaero in Nebraska and surrounding states, or US Cellular across 21 states, who are each (in our opinion) the "best" in their service area.

We challenge you to refine our results, especially since we are based in the west and find some reports of coverage and service in the east depending on contributions from users who may also have a limited range of travel.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

US Cellular Goes Unlimited

US Cellular, one of our top-rated wireless carriers, now offers plans with Unlimited Data. Like other carriers they will consider 'throttling' your speeds once you pass 22 GB of data in a month.  US Cellular, the 5th largest carrier in the US, will continue to offer their other capped data plans.  Prices for the new plans are in line with other major carriers with substantial savings when you add additional lines to your account.

This keeps US Cellular near the top of our Ratings as they do whatever it takes to stay competitive with the 4 larger carriers.  They also get credit for plans in expanding their coverage with wins in the 600 MHz FCC auction.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sprint Hooks Up with Open Mobile

There is further consolidation of wireless services in the Caribbean.  Last year's purchase of Innovative Mobile by Choice Wireless in the US Virgin Islands is followed this year by Sprint forming an operating agreement with Open Mobile in Puerto Rico. We have posted the English translation of the public relations release.  This is not an acquisition, it's an agreement to combine assets of both companies to offer a competitive local product.  We expect the networks to be combined to improve coverage noticeably. Most likely, service will be offered under one name or the other...we vote for Open Mobile.

Sprint also provides service in the US Virgin Islands which will also be part of the agreement, with a local overlord watching over facilities in both territories.  Service for both carriers in Puerto Rico should improve significantly and in the US Virgin Islands, marginally.  We think the Open Mobile name would be of greater value to local users, and the addition of resources from Sprint will make them a strong competitor.  However, the best idea isn't always the idea chosen.

Additionally, service for US roamers should improve in Puerto Rico where Sprint is not the coverage leader.

Friday, February 17, 2017

US Cellular - The Next National Carrier?

Yesterday, US Cellular filed a notice with the Securities Exchange Commission that they will be paying $327 Million to the FCC for spectrum they apparently won in the recent 600 MHz wireless spectrum auction.  They weren't supposed to reveal any results, yet, but US Cellular had to submit an 8-k form to the SEC and they must have decided that takes priority.

Each time US Cellular buys up some spectrum, the rumors fly that they will be making a run at expanding coast to coast.  Currently, US Cellular serves part or all of 26 states.  As one of our most favored carriers in the Mountain Wireless Ratings, it would indeed be great to see them compete in the national wireless arena.  However, there is little likelihood of them going national.  In previous FCC spectrum auctions, US Cellular added new spectrum in and around their already-established coverage areas.  And at a paltry $327 Million purchase price, that's about all they will be able to gain  from this auction as well.

On top of that, US Cellular would be entering the wireless arena at one of the most competitive periods in wireless history, maybe not so not good for the bottom line.  It appears they want to continue as a dominant carrier in rural areas demonstrated by their 2013 sale of assets of their then-largest market, Chicago, to Sprint.  The good news is that with more spectrum purchases, users living in US Cellular territory will get even better service.  The 600 MHz spectrum works very well in rural areas.

US Cellular is owned by individuals who have expressed no desire to sell out, so we applaud their efforts to be the best they can be.  There will be more news from the latest spectrum auction but this peek under the tent gives us just a little candy to chew on until the big news starts to roll.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Limits of Unlimited

The Unlimited wireless fracas is underway.  Each carrier touts their own version of all-you-can-eat wireless as best, but they all have limits to their Unlimiteds.  Each carrier "throttles", which we feel is fair as long as it is used only at truly congested times (who's gonna check this?).  Then there are the conditions like Auto-Pay, with one carrier charging extra if your Auto-Pay is linked to a credit card instead of a checking account.  Some allow hot spots, some don't.

As predicted, Sprint has revived their $50 unlimited plan.  Each carrier also supports substantial discounts for multi-phone users.  Watch out at check out for those pesky taxes and fees.  T-Mobile claims "No Taxes and Fees," as do some of the Prepaid carriers.  AT&T still offers Unlimited to wireless customers who sign up for DirectTV.  Let's see how long that lasts.  Whoops, at 4PM ET today, AT&T changed their minds and have eliminated that requirement!  Some of these other Unlimited limitations may go away just as fast, as consumers see the hoops they need to jump through, and the real price they need to pay.

One of the undesired results of making any amount of unlimited available,. is that we'll get spoiled.  3G was enough a few years ago, now we can't live without 4G.  Any kind of video in our pocket was a great novelty, now it has to be HD.  Hold your breath when the family travels off-network or out of the country.  You may need to actually talk to them when they can't access last night's video on demand.  Yes, it's your Dad here, telling you too much sugar isn't good for you.

Fortunately, Wireless Noise has your back.  We know the best Alternatives to Unlimited, and the cheapest Data plans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Unlimited Data: The Alternatives

Last month my wife went over her data allotment. She normally uses about 500 MB a month for email, the occasional web site and maybe an address lookup.  How she racked up 2.5 GB of usage in a couple of weeks is a mystery, but it's not unusual.  Leaving just 1 app open can suck up all kinds of data without notice...until it's too late.  I don't know if a 10GB limit would have kept her data alive.  Now that all of the top 4 carriers offer unlimited data, should she consider an "unlimited" plan?  We can see how some of us really want an unlimited amount of Data, not necessarily to use, but "just in case."

Fortunately, there are alternatives to unlimited data for those of us who go over our data limit only once in a while.  Our favorite alternative is "throttling". Until now, I never really gave much thought to carriers that "throttle" their data over your limit, but I now see what a great advantage it holds over those that brick wall your downloads. With throttling, when you hit your maximum, your download speed goes from mega-bits to kilo-bits.  There is more than one of the smaller carriers that only drops you from 4G to 3G...would you notice?  Even at 2G (128Kbit/s) you can still use a map or read your email.

The next option are the carriers that offer an extra GB or so for an additional fee.  If you have a hard data limit or you truly want more high-speed data over throttling, the extra data charge is a good deal...if you only use it every few months.  It's certainly better than paying a high monthly fee for unlimited that you may never use.  My wife has the patience to wait until she's back on Wi-Fi, but she'll re-think her next plan to consider one that throttles instead of one that cuts her off.  It's nicer that way.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Happy Feet: the T-Mobile & Verizon Foot Race

A new report from Open Signal on the "State of Mobile Networks" shows that T-Mobile has not only caught up with Verizon Wireless in data download speeds, they beat them in some markets.  Fortunately for us, all 4 top cellular networks have made noticeable improvements in download rates.  T-Mobile's aggressive addition of 700 MHz spectrum has contributed much to their network upgrades, however, there are still a number of markets where they don't have this new "Extended" coverage.  This could change either with more spectrum acquisitions, or T-Mobile's success in the current 600 MHz spectrum auction.

These numbers will contribute to the 2 carriers' bragging rights as much as make true improvements available to users.  So let the boasting begin.  It's is a foot race where the leader just noticed another runner catching up...and faster is better for all of us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hello Tello Plus 50% Off

I got an email this morning from Tello telling us they're increasing their incentive for Ring Plus customers from 30% off to 50% off (Coupon Code RINGPLUS50).  You can also bring over your Ring Plus phone.  Tello has been catching notice by offering plans starting at $5 a month, with their next price level at $9 which gives you a little more Talk, Text and Data.  We posted the step-by-step process if you want to port from Ring Plus to Tello.

Over at FreedomPop I'm guessing they can't cut their price any cheaper than FREE, but they are offering refurbished phones today which would interest some of us whether we're escaping from Ring Plus or not.

This very same scenario happened about one year ago when PTel gave up their business and their customers were courted by several prepaid players with the winner at that time, Ting, who eventually lost a bunch of those PTel refugees when their free offer was over.  This year, there's no free lunch, but there's a better chance of finding a new home that will keep prices at a predictable level.  Oh, yes, we have an advertising relationship with both of these carriers but we did not get paid for this post.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Goodbye Ring Plus: Here's Where to Go

We have only a few Ring Plus fans here so I will direct you to an article at Cnet about alternatives to Ring Plus, which is closing later this week (you'll need to port out by Feb. 11).  The author shares several good ideas for low-cost replacements, very similar to what we report here.  We agree on most of his ideas except his downplay of FreedomPop.  How can you complain about FREE wireless?  Yes, FreedomPop offers less Free Data than Ring Plus, which is why FreedomPop stands a better chance of surviving.

Ring Plus phones are based on the Sprint network, so other compatible companies we have positive experiences with are Ting, Tello, and Google Voice.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Straight Talk or Total Wireless?

Straight Talk has been one of our top-rated prepaid carriers.  Some Straight Talk users whose phones use the Verizon Wireless network wonder if they can save over $10 a month by switching to Total Wireless since both use the same network.  Let's compare.

Both Straight Talk and Total are operated by TracFone which is owned by America Movil.  Both are sold at Walmart and online at Mountain Prepaid. Both operate on the Verizon Wireless network, although Straight Talk also has versions that utilize other networks. While both claim coverage is  limited to the Verizon network, Straight Talk phones can also roam onto other CDMA systems, which may be a significant difference.  For their lowest price, both give you Unlimited Talk & Text plus 5Gb of Data, but it appears Total just flat out stops after that, where Straight Talk throttles your data speed down to 2G, so they can claim it's "Unlimited".

The big difference is the price.  Straight Talk charges $44 with Auto-Payplus tax and Total Wireless actually charges $33.20 with Auto-Pay, plus tax.  You're looking at an almost $11 difference.  Is it worth it?  Even if you go over the 5Gb limit, the best deal is Total, because for $10 you can add another 3 GB of data and, as long as you maintain your account, that extra data doesn't expire until it's all used up.  The coverage difference?  How often are you actually out of Verizon coverage?  Hello, southeast Oklahoma?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A 20% Price Cut!

T-Mobile has joined the likes of Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS with "No added Taxes or Fees."  Some of us responded with a shrug but many others are quite impressed with what amounts to as much as a 20% price decrease.  Money magazine noted, "Washington (18.8%), Nebraska (18.7%), and New York top the list of states where consumers pay the most in taxes and fees, while Oregon (1.8%), Nevada (2.1%) and Idaho are among the states that offer the lowest..."  In another article they reveal there are 8 potential charges, some beyond taxes, that can appear in our wireless bill.  These can be called "federally-mandated" but are not required to be passed along to the consumer, they just do.

For some of us, "No Added Taxes or Fees"  looks like a tiny 1 or 2% discount, but others should be jumping up and down.  Also, all of us should hope this 'No Fee' wall survives whatever new charges might be applied by various government and non-government entities in the future.  Fortunately, it looks like none of us are paying more to subsidize the highly-taxed areas of the country.

It's a trend we hope spreads to more carriers, however, it may mean they'll find new ways to extract money from us, like higher phone prices, activation charges and new plans with fewer benefits.  I'm sticking with the Cheap Plans and hope for the best.