Happy New Year 2009: The iPhone's success has been tremendous, and deservedly so. What many fail to understand is that the phone isn't just a decent piece of engineering from a hardware perspective, it's all about the ease of use. On the hardware side Apple shipped a device with 800x400 resolution (when the average PDA was 320x320 or lower). They also included built-in wi-fi. This is a win-win because the copy-cats are now doing higher resolution screens, wi-fi, and even some enhancements we'd like to see the iPhone copy (A2DP bluetooth stereo, tactile feedback, etc.). Most fundamentally, the iPhone delivers the power of a data&web-connected handheld device to normal people, not just the geeks. Obvious applications are calendar, email, web, but lots of innovation in location aware applications including google maps, remember the milk, etc.
Anyway, iPhone set the PDA bar higher (and introduced mainstream folks to the PDA concept) and we are all benefiting. The only real competition I've seen is probably the android platform which is still a little young. At the same time, Microsoft can't seem to get anything right. Not many rave reviews for Vista (more bad press than deserved in my opinion), Office 2007 (sucks rocks, look at OpenOffice 3.0), or Windows Mobile 6.1 (same old stuff). HTC's touchflo 3D is better than Windows Mobile interface. I love my HTC Diamond with TouchFlo, except for the "ugly" pieces of the underlying windows mobile interface. Who knows, maybe Microsoft will take up the challenge in WinMo v6.5? We'll see. I'd buy an iPhone if available on my carrier-- and may end up doing so anyway because of the awesome development happening on that platform. Some of the killer iPhone apps include Pandora, remember the milk, mint.com, fring, and the list keeps growing daily. Don't want a monthly fee, look at the new Apple Touch device which has much of the same functionality without the data everywhere feature (requires wi-fi). The Touch model I have is also lacks a microphone or any speaker. I've heard a rumor that the new Touch includes a speaker at least. (i.e. older touch users are forced to wear headphones).
Verizon Still Kicking Booty: Verizon already has a great nationwide network, and with their nationwide 700Mhz license, they are poised to kick booty in 2009. A lot of nay sayers claim Verizon has brain washed the consumer reports and JD Powers audience that routinely rates them first. I think there's more truth to the hype than most folks recognize. Verizon still plans LTE for 4G data, and we'll continue to watch the changes. Verizon has the magic combination of spectrum and money. I suspect you'll see voice service running on VOIP/SIP over the LTE data network. It remains to be seen how much the bad economy will effect build-out. To the extent that it effects Verizon, I believe it will effect them all. By the way, I don't work for any cell carrier, nor am I a current Verizon customer (I tend to shop for the best bargain and these days all of the carriers do a reasonable job).
Verizon Acquisition of Alltel: There's been some discussion over on Howard forums in the Sprint group on what all this will mean. The optimistic side might be EVDO roaming on all Verizon (since they already have EVDO roaming on Alltel). I don't see this happening absent a new deal that expands Verizon's revenue. Sprint entered a 10 year roaming agreement with Alltel in 2006, but no one knows if provisions exist for that agreement post acquisition. A worst-case scenario for Sprint that could actually happen if Verizon transitions to LTE for data, and perhaps SIP/VOIP for voice. At that point, they wouldn't be technology compatible unless Sprint follows suit. So far to date, Sprint has not stated a desire to pursue LTE for data (or anything else). That being said, Verizon hasn't stated desire to use LTE for anything but data thus far. The speculation regarding SIP/VOIP comes from the fact that you have higher data rates and the desire to simultaneously use voice and data which Verizon doesn't currently have with EVDO.
Analog Mostly Gone: As predicted, we simply lost tons of remote rural coverage when the analog network fell silent. You can gain a little ground back by buying the correct phone and a Wilson 3Watt powered antenna solution. There's still a maximum cell phone to tower distance due to digital technologies timing requirements so it's not what you had, but perhaps half-again what you have without it. If you need true emergency notification (911 style) then look at satellite solutions like "find me spot." Of course, the 911 style services aren't used to call a tow truck.
University of Oregon discounts: Our local telecom folks asked me to take these off my web page (no special advantages by virtue of our state employment), however, I can say that nearly all large employers qualify for discounted cell phone service, including on existing personal lines of service. Minimally, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon all do here in Eugene.
Holiday Season 2007
Here's some of the big topics right now:
- Verizon "Takes" Oregon: Verizon has just acquired a massive amount of rural coverage in Oregon by purchasing both RCC Unicel and Ramcell.
- Analog: What's going on, what do I predict will happen in February 2008, and what does it all mean?
- What's the big deal about February 2009?
- What do I think of the iPhone, and the new AT&T.
- Verizon has greatly expanded coverage in Oregon. We now have eastern and southern Oregon as native coverage (albeit PCS)
- Windows Mobile 6 and the HTC Mogul 6800 Review
- T-Mobile's @Home service combines cellular and wi-fi access to voice calls from the home. This includes (mostly) seamless handoffs between the two.
May 10, 2006
Data Roaming: Both Sprint and Verizon are now allowing data roaming in some places. This is really nice to see. Given Sprint's better prices for data, I was surprised to see them offer this. The rumor is that Sprint will start providing data roaming on the Alltel network (which is actually massive), but unfortunately there is no Alltel in Oregon or Washington. Since Verizon allows data roaming on US Cellular (very large in rural Oregon and Washington carrier), Verizon is still the best for data roaming in this neck of the woods.
Verizon seems to have added massive amounts of data roaming. See their national enhanced services map for the red areas on the map. Note that most roaming areas in Oregon, Nebraska and Kansas and Maine appear to now be covered. To accomplish this, it's likely Verizon added Sprint and US Cellular to their data roaming partners in at least some places. This might be bad for folks who have had data included as part of their voice plan. Note that Quick2Net is now noted as 25 cents per minute. This is likely a response to Cingular, who already has transparent data roaming included with their plans.
My Windows CE, Mobile 5, PPC6700 Trials and Tribulations. (3/28/06)
Happy New Year! (Jan 2006)
Has re-introduced the $30 price point. Although their normal $30 plan only includes 200 minutes, their fair and flexible plans don't charge much for overage ($5 for each additional 50 minutes). These plans should include off-network roaming (formerly a paid option). Off-network roaming should not exceed 50% of your total usage. The trend has been to bump price points up, so I'm pleased to see some new lower cost options. Sprint is offering a friends and family program for their employees. Under this program, if you have a friend that works for Sprint you can get some really excellent pricing.
I made the switch from Verizon to Sprint recently, mostly due to data plan cost on Verizon. While Sprint's pricing is definitely better, the actual phone service has been relatively poor, even with free roaming on Verizon. The problem stems from lots of places (inside buildings) with weak cell phone signal leading to missed calls. I never had that problem with Verizon, who has exceptional coverage of my hometown of Eugene, OR. I would not have made this change if I didn't care about access to data. If all I needed was voice, Verizon wins hands down.
Verizon has finally added some really nice looking phones to their lineup. Most notably the slim Motorola Razr. They also now have a nice looking candy-bar Nokia 6236i. Alternates include the Nokia 6256i flip phone which you can likely find at Radio Shack and not a Verizon store. They've also got a Treo 650. I've always thought Verizon had good service, but never been a fan of their phones. Glad to see them improving one of their weak areas (phone type selection).
Google maps on your tiny cell phone screen, complete with directory lookups? Yep, see http://google.com/glm for details and to see if your device is supported. Your carrier will charge you data access fees if you don't already have an unlimited data access plan for this service. This is the coolest thing since sliced bread.
Free 411 Type Directory Assistance:
Need cheap directory assistance, even for residential lookups?, see advertising based, 1800FREE411
(1-800-373-3411) or "1800411METRO" at (1800-411-6387).
Google's SMS based service. This service works by you sending a text message with the listing you want i.e. "john smith palo alto ca." The service replies with the phone number in a text message. The service has other uses too. See the linked information for more details.
Google local maps also displays phone numbers of businesses if you do a lookup for say "Pizza, eugene, OR."
There's some discussion that Alltel appears to be blocking these toll-free numbers which are rivals to its own directory assistance. It's unclear to me if this is legal. If they block any phone number for you, I'd encourage you to file a formal complaint with the FCC. Blocking it seems silly (and possibly illegal), given there are now so many ways to do this. For example, my phones can simply go to dexonline.com via the browser and get a listing that way too. If you have a Palm OS device (i.e. Treo, 7135, etc) you can check out Rick Whitt's excellent directory assistant. Note that while all of these services themselves are free, text messages and data are not, unless you have a plan that includes them. Typical cost for a text message is 10 cents each, and data is typically expensive unless you have an unlimited plan.
November 2005: Keep your eyes pealed for Cellular deals. Historically the Thanksgiving/Christmas season offers some of the best deals in cellular.
Cingular and Sprint: The new cellular tower for campus has gone live. (Hayward field at the UO) . This according to our local Cingular representative.
September 21, 2005
Cingular- coverage here in Eugene is actually worse than it was when AT&T was running the show. It's hard to imagine how a carrier's coverage can not only show zero signs of improvement spanning several years, but actually get worse. It's a sad fact because Cingular's data footprint is the largest in the nation because they allow data roaming. This means devices like the Treo650 can get email in more places than with any other carrier. Rumor has it that Cingular will co-locate with Sprint on the Hayward field tower here in Eugene. If that happens, it will be the first noticible coverage improvement here in years. I wish Cingular had a news and information page like Verizon does. At least then you'd be able to see the improvements they are making somewhere in the country.
Verizon- Rumor has it that Verizon is starting to enable data roaming on their extended network. Hurray. If this happens nationally, Verizon would likely be a clear winner for both voice and data (at least in my mind). Verizon has always offered good to excellent voice coverage through their native network and roaming partners, however, they have not traditionally offered data features when roaming. Warning: Those who currently receive free data (minutes of use), may be out of luck when and if data roaming is added. i.e. It seems unlikely Verizon would be able to give something away that they have to pay for.
All digital phones: I finally made the switch, and I can report with certainty that my coverage area has worsened. In many fringe areas where my tri-mode Verizon phone could make calls, the all digital phone cannot. The all-digital phones work fine in-town. It's mostly coastal, or other rural areas where you really notice the difference. Digital phones (like the Treo 650) certainly have other redeeming value (like ability to access Internet applications from the handset).
New Native Verizon Coverage in Eastern WA: Verizon now has native service in some eastern Washington cities (i.e. Kennewick, Richland, Pasco). The highways between the cities continue to roam on US Cellular or Inland Cellular.
Which Data Plan Makes the Most Sense? I've been helping some of the director-types here at the University of Oregon get setup with Treo 650's, and Blackberries. The Cingular offering makes the most sense due to the included data roaming. While Verizon and Cingular both provide excellent voice coverage in this state, Verizon lacks data roaming capability, which excludes all data use in Southern and Eastern Oregon. I do not believe cost to be a significant barrier for these types of people, however, coverage area *does* matter.
T-Mobile also has an offering for $20 if their native service works where you need it. Their coverage area is significantly smaller than Cingular with their included roaming partners.
Prepaid News: Cingular has some new and appealing prepaid options. The main change is the option to get $1/day, then ten cents a minute. The cool part is that you only pay the $1 access fee on days you actually use your phone (which is unlike the $1 access fees charged by Verizon's new prepaid, and T-Mobile's new prepaid SideKick II plan). Prepaid seems to be a hot area of competition. I suspect we'll even see better prepaid options down the line. For example, with T-Mobile I can already get a prepaid data plan with SideKick II for $31/month, which seems better to me than adding Verizon's way over-priced data to my existing Verizon plan.
This is a relatively slow time in the Cellular world. No hot new plans (aside from the action I see in the prepaid area). If anything, the notable thing is that Cingular has actually raised prices. While I'm not a Cingular customer for my primary lines, I still hate to see this, as it seems that the industry seems to follow each other. On the other hand, there seems to be times of the year when things stay relatively expensive, so that they can reduce prices around holidays without really reducing prices overall.
Choosing a carrier is getting more difficult: I used to tell folks to focus on who provided the best coverage and best rate plan for your needs. We now have a situation where one of the carriers with the best geographic coverage and good rate plans (Cingular) provides some of the worst quality of service at least in the places I live and travel. I don't feel I can recommend them to anyone at the moment. Their TDMA/analog service has fallen from one of the best systems ever, to one of the worst, and seemingly overnight. My TDMA/analog phones require me to dial the same number as many as five times just to place one call. My GSM phone fares better, but not by much. Cingular seems to have significant capacity issues here in Eugene, and poor response to maintenance. I say this because my Cingular phones perform poorly even in places where my old AT&T phones performed well, and using the same network (We never had a Cingular presence here in Oregon prior to the acquisition of AT&T Wireless). When talking to the local store staff, they seem painfully aware of the problems I've described here. The comment one of them made to me is that Eugene Oregon isn't a priority for Cingular, and folks in Portland (and larger cities) should be seeing better service than what we can expect. Funny, the old AT&T wireless never had a problem providing good quality of service even in their smaller markets (including Eugene). So now I revise my recommendation to say choose someone who works well in your local town as high priority, and then look to the other considerations.
Verizon: New prepaid plans with in-network (M2M), Verizon eliminated all roaming on the AC plan (making it akin to single-rate). The bad new is that Verizon, at least in some cases, will simply remove areas where we can at least pay to roam in the past. I'd rather have enhanced coverage, even if I have to pay roaming fees in those areas.
Discussion of Internet by Cellphone: I met a cool guy (Don) via email who started an excellent discussion forum called Internet by Cellphone. I've added a link to this discussion group under "Dan's Picks" on the main page. There seems to be a lot of good discussion there.
Prepaid SIM Trick I learned from Bill Radio: I had purchased an unlocked 6340i GAIT for for testing sake, and signed up for GoPhone for awhile to get a handle on where AT&T/Cingular GSM coverage exists. Worked fine for awhile, but with GoPhone you have to re-up every 30 days. Anyway, Bill pointed out that folks are selling T-Mobile prepaid SIM cards on ebay. I picked up a $100 card for $20, and it's one of the 1yr promotional cards so there's no need to refill for quite some time.
Sprint and Nextel are merging. On the surface this wouldn't sound like a logical mix, however, Nextel had been looking at CDMA as a migration path prior to this merger anyway. One would guess/hope we may see better implementations of push to talk for CDMA as part of this process.
Verizon has what I believe to be a Deceptive Advertisement in today's (12/31/04) Register Gaurd. It's a full page ad for America's Choice rate plan. In large letters, bullet point "NO ROAMING CHARGES COAST TO COAST" then in fine print it states that users roaming off the AC network will pay $.69/minute. If they want to make a no roaming claim, fine, make AC a truly no roaming plan, otherwise don't post such a deceptive ad. FYI: A Cingular customer can be assured of no roaming anywhere their phone works.
Verizon Deal: Existing AC Family Plans: If you have America's choice, you can call customer service and see if you qualify. The deal is 100 minutes per month for the duration of your contract. Offer appears to end January 16th. A one year (or two year) contract extension is required. Folks in the western markets appear to be able to get this for just a one year contract, and no extension at all in cases where their contract is already more than 12 months out.
Cingular is botching the AT&T merger in my opinion:
- They will charge existing customers an activation fee to select a Cingular plan. At this point AT&T and Cingular are the same company, and I believe this is unnecessarily penalizing AT&T folks. Note that AT&T folks cannot choose old AT&T plans either.
- Existing AT&T customers cannot buy a new phone (even as a replacement) without accepting a new Cingular plan (and associated fees).
- If an AT&T customer wants to add a line of service, or make various changes to their service they will be forced to choose a Cingular plan and pay the above mentioned activation fee(s).
- Cingular will not match an existing AT&T customers benefits. They will, however, allow an existing customer to keep their plan (if you make no changes). This even applies to adding a new line of service to your existing account (for family plan).
- The bottom line is that Cingular is not doing what they can to welcome existing AT&T customers. If I were with AT&T right now, I'd vote with my feet and switch carriers instead of paying any fee that would not have been charged to an existing AT&T customer (if AT&T Wireless still existed), which is also a fee no existing Cingular customer would be asked to pay.
AT&T customers did not choose to be taken over by another company. I think Cingular executives need to sit back and ask the question: "What services would AT&T customers have if nothing had changed?" Make this the *baseline* for services provided by the new company, and I'd even recommend they offer AT&T customers special promotions to welcome them into the family. They can penalize AT&T customers, and make them pay the transition cost (which they did not choose), however, my hope is that customers leave Cingular by the droves until this is corrected. Corpoarte greed only understands profit loss.
I'm not aware of any outstanding holiday deals this season. It would appear that none of the carriers want to significantly modify their existing offerings this season.
10/10/04: Google recently launced their SMS
service, and it is great! All you need to understand to
love Google's new service is that you can now get directory assistance
for both business and *residential* listings for the cost of one
outgoing, and one incoming text message. This means you can access
useful information without subscribing to a separate data plan.
To use the new excellent service, send a text message to 46645 (GOOGL)
and in the body of the message enter something like "john smith
palo alto ca" See their
sample queries for more information.
Verizon Makes Big Improvements:
- Their latest PRL for the America's Choice (AC) rate-plan includes
lots of new coverage in Alaska. This is one of the states that
has had very little included coverage for years.
- Verizon's current AC promotion offers unlimited in-network calling
(otherwise known as mobile to mobile). This now includes family
plan lines as well as the primary line.
- Verizon's in-network calling has been expanded to include the
entire AC coverage map. This means you won't even be billed airtime
when calling another Verizon user even when they are roaming,
provided they are roaming on a preferred provider (included with
- Verizon added a new tower near 13th and Patterson (on top of
the building adjacent to the Dairy Queen) here in Eugene. This
means Verizon has towers on both the east and west campus. I'd
definitely say they have the best coverage of the UO Campus of
any of the carriers thus far.
- Verizon finally has a bluetooth phone (Motorolla V710) which
appears to be usable for data and headsets, but not for transferring
your phonebook, calendar, or digital images.
- Verizon just bought 3 Billion dollars worth of spectrum from
nextwave wireless. (11/5/04)
Although AT&T claimed to have already completed their 850Mhz
GSM overlay nationwide this summer, I have reason to believe
they just finished it here in Eugene within the past week. In several
locations where our GSM 850 phones used to get marginal service,
we suddenly have excellent signal. In addition, this change did
not occur for our 1900 Mhz-only phones at the same locations.
It's Confusing, but both Sprint and Verizon appear to have acquired
Qwest's wireless assets, yet Qwest Wireless will continue to sell
service under its own name: Although Verizon
is the only one talking about the acquisition of Qwest Wireless
network and licenses, it appears Sprint also acquired portions of
the Qwest Wireless network. Last year, before the Verizon deal,
Sprint struck a deal with Qwest wireless to acquire
all of their wireless customers. While there are no press releases
regarding the Sprint acquisition of Qwest towers, FCC records indicate
the ownership changes. Note that FCC records indicate tower ownership
changes from Qwest to Sprint in Montana and Wyoming (here's
some example records). Another source tells me they also acquired
towers in Denver, Seattle and Salt Lake City, and some towers in
Oregon. This should result in improvements both for Sprint and Verizon.
Qwest will continue to sell wireless service under their own name,
effectively as a Sprint network reseller. This will enable Qwest
to continue to sell bundled wireline & wireless services. Verizon
did acquire all of the licenses, and all remaining network info-structure
after the Sprint deal was completed. If you have additional information,
or corrections for this very confusing issue, please send them my
way. As a Verizon user, I find this somewhat disappointing as Qwest
had some towers in places you'd be hard pressed to build now days
given the NIMBY issue (Not In My Backyard). If Sprint got its pick
of towers first, then they're the winners in my book. In any event,
it's good news for both Sprint and Verizon users.
Ecallplus has gone down the tube: After price increases
they went from being one of the cheapest to one of the more expensive
services around. See Markson's
eCallPlus FAQ for more information.
8/10/2004: AT&T's GSM Finally Becomes Usable: Cellular
One NW appears to have overlaid GSM in Oregon and AT&T "GSM
America" users appear to be able to roam on them free of charge.
Reports in usenet (alt.cellular.attws) of GSM access at Crater Lake
seem to indicate that Cellular One NW, and their seizable rural
coverage are now available to AT&T GSM customers. This is actually
a huge breakthrough because it means an AT&T GSM phone will
work most anywhere a TDMA/analog or Verizon CDMA/analog phone would.
With appealing rates (like add-a-phone at $10 ea.) and data access
even when roaming (albeit expensive), this positions AT&T/Cingular
to be one of the best cellular carriers in Oregon.
AT&T GSM Users Seem to Be Able to Use:
- AT&T's own substantial native network. Note their native
network in Oregon is larger than Verizon's native network in Oregon.
- T-Mobile - Lots of redundant coverage, but fills out I5/I84
- EdgeWireless- they cover southwestern Oregon, including the
southern Oregon coast.
- Cellular One NW - These folks cover eastern Oregon, and many
remote rural locations.
AT&T has long had the edge on CDMA carriers like Sprint and
Verizon in terms of providing seamless roaming. This means all your
features work even when roaming (i.e. text messaging, voice mail
indication, caller ID, etc.) For the last couple years this came
at the price of dramatically reduced GSM coverage area when compared
to the alternatives -- even AT&T's own TDMA/analog plans. With
the addition of Cellular One NW as a roaming partner, the GSM coverage
map looks almost as good as the old TDMA/analog map. Anything without
analog for fallback will lack certain rural coverage, and AT&T
GSM users cannot roam on US Cellular (which TDMA/analog customers
can), so it's not 100% equal to the old TDMA/analog coverage, but
for many, this will make it close enough.
Disclaimer: I have not yet been able to personally verify
the validity of this information, however, AT&T's
own updated coverage maps seem to confirm this information directly.
Note the GSM coverage all the way out to Burns Oregon for example.