News Archive

News Archive:

July 2017- Some of my thoughts at present regarding the state of wireless:

Many of us, and including the forums, have been saying for years that you should choose the carrier that presents the best value to you. I thought that was good advice ten years ago, and I think it's good advice now.

There are some knobs one can twiddle to calculate value. Points can be earned for the best geographic coverage, most reliable network, fastest data, text message speed, voice quality, and/or cost. These aren't the only metrics to consider but you get the idea. The one that I hate to admit matters is the carrier with the best marketing message (advertising). Luckily, even within advertising the truth matters or will eventually.

What I mean is if Verizon makes a claim to have the most reliable voice network (the old "can you hear me now?") campaign, it worked because Verizon's claim washed with peoples' experience. An opposite example is Qwest's motto "Spirit of Service" which fared poorly. Why? Because that wasn't the experience of the average person buying service from Qwest. So the marketing messages matter, but they actually have to be based in truth to work well, and to continue working.

A few years back I watched Verizon build the first nation-wide LTE network, and looking at the LTE coverage I was simply convinced they'd stomp the competition. That obviously didn't happen. The competitors worked hard at building their own LTE networks and the consumers all benefitted.

In present time, it would appear that T-Mobile is "stomping" the competition. That may be true at the moment but the pendulum will swing back too. T-Mobile's becoming more of a 'carrier' every day with their one-size-fits-all plan, increased prices, and dissolution of some of the well-loved uncarrier initiatives that brought them prosperity (i.e. bing on, music freedom, data stash). And while they've increased coverage, they are still far from being a Verizon or ATT in terms of coverage.

ATT has also been successful with their acquistion of DirectTV and bundling. They've made some smart decisions by acquiring high value companies (DirectTV, Mexican cellular). They've also been inventive with plans (i.e. their cheaper unlimited plan with data speed cap).

Sprint has been courting some suitors. This makes sense; they have lots of spectrum and little cash to make use of it. If either their cable deal, merger, investment from Buffett or some combination thereof pan out, that could be a big deal too.

While this intense wireless competition may be hard on the carriers in some respects, it definitely fosters creativity and better options for consumers. Most consumers have actually seen their wireless service improve, and their cost go down. This is an example of why capitalism works. Should consolidation occur, we'll see innovation slow, and prices go up. The closer to a monopoly we get, the worse for consumers.

In the end, I think the carrier with the best wireless network will have the most persistent success. I also admit that can change over time. I will say I find it all enjoyable to watch the movement. "Let the games begin!" (or perhaps more accurately- "Let the games continue!")


Late June 2017-- beware this one is almost all commentary. See the news link for plan advice (the May edition).

* Verizon may really be in trouble. It's funny I unfortunately predicted as much. Who borrows 130 billon dollars? I suspect management felt that the profit they were seeing a few years ago would continue indefinitely. Suddenly I see reasonably priced Verizon plans but also an apparent lack of investment in the network, coupled with cheapening of age-old Verizon standards: Roaming limitations-- what on Verizon-- yes some users in LRA markets are being forced out, slow Verizon roaming-- yep, often limited to 2G speeds. All of this seems like a page out of T-Mobile's cost-control playbook and bad news for folks who buy Verizon because it is, or was, the gold standard. Verizon keeps buying crap for content providers. Go90 and Yahoo? What's up with that? This is about as smart as Sprint buying RadioShack for exactly the same reasons.

* ATT on the other hand has really surprised me with their smart innovation. Usually I see them as the least innovative company in existence, but the combination of both acquiring major carriers in Mexico (expanding global reach), and acquisition of Direct TV is just good sense. ATT's prepaid unit (Cricket) is arguably a price and performance leader. Add to that (albeit limited speed) unlimited plan at $60/mo, there's not much bad to say here. Just a bunch of smart decisions.

* T-Mobile led the revolution and we all benefited from their uncarrier initiatives. They forgot where they came from and have been making monumentally bad decisions as we move forward. T-Mobile did away with greats like music freedom and binge-on. They now only have one plan with unlimited everything but at $70/mo they aren't cheap. All of this while Verizon offers a $55/mo with 5Gb data with both carry-over (think data stash), and safety mode with no overages. Wow is all I can say. How long will it take for T-Mobile to tank? Their innovation seems to have gone away to make investors happy or some other thing I simply don't understand. All I can say to T-Mobile is go back to your recent roots as a low-cost (i.e. $50/mo) provider. The only smart move recently is 'get out the red' which recognizes that all modern Verizon smartphones are unlocked so easy picking. Too bad for T-Mobile, Sprint offers something similar for less.

* Sprint is now offering a year of free service to those who switch. If my phone wasn't paid for by work, yep, I'd switch. Maybe a desperation move by Sprint, maybe a stroke of brilliance. Even if Sprint and T-Mobile merge, how can that be bad for a Sprint user? In my home state of Oregon, Sprint literally stomps T-Mobile's coverage in every area of the state without exception. It leaves one to wonder why anyone would choose T-Mobile period? Just good advertising I guess. Literally 100% of the T-Mobile users I know have an old grandfathered plan from back when they were cheap(er).


May 2017

  • There's some pretty awesome plan choices right at the moment (March 13th, 2017). I still recommend that you do your homework to make sure that you don't give up anything that you care about when changing plans.
  • Unlimited: The obvious, or most advertised news, is that all of the national carriers now have an unlimited data option. Verizon's new unlimited offering is $80/mo for a single-line plan, however, the cost per line can go down substantially for family plans. The new offering from Verizon does not qualify for employer discounts but seems to qualify for military discounts. The Verizon unlimited plan includes 10Gb of mobile hotspot data, with additional data throttled to a lower speed. Forum users report that the new Verizon plan also throttles roaming data.
  • Verizon $55 Plan: This new plan doesn't include a device subsidy but does work with employer discounts. Note that folks in-contract have to pay $20/mo more than the advertised price until their device subsidy is paid. This $55 plan does include mobile hotspot and "safety mode." Safety mode, which is a user-selectable option, allows a user to choose throttling instead of overage cost.
  • ATT's $60 Plan: ATT has introduced a $60/mo unlimited plan with 3Mb/s download speeds and no hotspot. ATT, of course, also has a high-speed unlimited plan at additional cost.
  • Should you switch carriers now that Verizon has unlimited? That's a more complicated question than it appears. I've seen folks who have blindly made the jump later become remorseful because their old carrier better suited their needs.
  • Timing: The extraordinary plans do come and go, so it may be important to you to "do your homework" quickly.
  • Unlocked Phone? These often cost more money, but they may eliminate any "strings" the carrier otherwise attaches. For example, one can buy an iPhone directly from Apple which is unlocked and gets one out of carrier specific limitations.
  • New phone/device? It's always been true that if you don't replace your cellular device every few years it means you're not getting the best speeds or features. The carriers have been implementing faster data using newly purchased spectrum and carrier aggregation. One cannot see this speed increase unless one has a newer device. So while it may be most economical to keep the same device for a long time, doing so means that you are missing out on the best cellular experience. For example, the Verizon 2200 mifi is 3G-only from about 2009 or so. This user can buy any LTE capable MiFi and likely increase data speed 10x or more. Given that the 2200 user pays the same monthly cost for data as an LTE mifi user, there is an argument to be made that upgrading this device delivers far more value for a nominal cost. Not all cases are this clear cut but you get the idea.
  • Montana: Sprint and T-Mobile are starting to have some native service in Montana. See the link under Online Tools called "Sensorly" to see it.



March 2016

  • Competition is alive and good, and once again thank you to T-Mobile. T-Mobile figured out how to permit their subs to roam for free in Mexico and Canada. Awesome! This likely accomplished via a recipricol deal where the Canadian or Mexican carrier can also permit roaming in the USA. The impetus for T-Mobile was likely ATT's purchase of a Mexican cellular provider. i.e. They knew ATT planned to offer free roaming in Mexico. Since T-Mobile's inclusion of both Mexico and Canada, some ATT users have also gotten Canada roaming added too (by asking for it) likely a response to T-Mobile. Add to all of this free WiFi calling at least to US numbers when traveling internationallly (again, likely thanks to T-Mobile). Anyway, we the consumers, all win.
  • Verizon has been late to the WiFi calling party, however, every national carrier now supports WiFi calling. This is great for locations that are hard to service (think basement level of a building etc.) Providers with VoLTE (T-Mobile, ATT, Verizon) can start a call on WiFi and leave a WiFi area without dropping the call. Good stuff.
  • ATT is sunsetting their 2G, which is cool (I hope). Assuming this means all 2G only sites are upgraded to at least 3G, then this is big improvement.
  • The promise of high-speed data on our handsets only really exists when there aren't tight limits on usage. At the moment, data cost is too high on some providers to make anything like "care free" use reality. It's funny (or sad) to me that unlimited basically went away right when the technology got usable.


December 2015

Exciting In Cellular:

  • Closing in on the Universal Translator: The industry seems to be pushing personal assistant software (Siri, OK Google, Cortana etc.). We also see iPhone and Android being very adept at voice to text, and text to voice for that matter. So to me the killer application that is related to these technologies is realtime translation. I want to say something in English and have my phone say the equivelent phrase in Spanish, Italian, German, ..., or whatever. This type of application already exists, but I'm sure they will improve with time.
  • International Plans that Make Sense: Along with my first thought above, we're finally seeing international plans at least for some carriers that really make sense to me. Both Sprint and T-Mobile now have great options for voice/text/data in Canada and Mexico. In additon, T-Mobile really pioneered permitting international data for no extra charge, and Sprint's Open World (while not as inclusive) aims to do something similar for many of the same countries. Verizon and AT&T don't include any international data at this time but AT&T offers their internatinal passport plan and Verizon has similar options. These changes make the planet seem smaller, more accessible, and more connected. Even simple things (that are actually really big) like using google maps when traveling is huge.
    Note: Be sure to verify that your carrier/plan is covered before using services internationally, and make an effort to understand limitations. For example, data use on the phone itself may be included but not tethering. Also, some countries are excluded even from the add-on plans. Cruise ship usage is basically always excluded from international options unless specifically included. Nobody wants to come home to a multi-thousand dollar cell phone bill (and yes, that is possible).
  • Price Wars: The carriers to one degree or another are targetting existing customers. This can mean some good deals for consumers depending on the circumstance. I'm not a huge fan of price wars actually because the smaller carriers are least likely to survive and I like to see competition. So it's a balancing act, but if we were to say lose one of the 4 national carriers, I don't think that's a good thing in the long run. That continued competition is what keeps pricing more reasonble for all of us.
  • Technolgy: I think the big next chapter is carrier aggregation (CA). So if we can have phones that can aggregate LTE bands of say mid and low band spectrum we may see improvements both in terms of coverage and having best speed where available. The problem we have today without CA is that the phone may priortize a band with less spectrum and not be able to utilize a higher capacity band even when available. One needs a more recent handset to take advantage of CA, so the older phones can't do it. In addition, customers of T-Mobile want a Band 12 capable phone to see recent coverage improvements. It doesn't matter if you don't know what band 12 is (it's a band in 700Mhz range that propagates better than their higher frequency spectrum), but T-Mobile customers should insure their next phone has support for this band (and subsequently best coverage). The truth is that it will benefit you to upgrade your phone every two years if you can afford to do so. These changes are a moving target, and often only the newer phones benefit.
  • WiFi Calling is finally available in some form on all four national carriers:
    • T-Mobile: They were the first to offer this feature, even spanning back to the old UMA days. Anyway, thank you T-Mobile for driving the others to offer this awesome feature too. This feature works on multiple T-Mobile phones including recent iPhone models.
    • Sprint: Like T-Mobile, Sprint now has WiFi calling too, including the built-in OS supported feature on the iPhone.
    • AT&T: AT&T was a more recent addition to the WiFi calling party.
    • Verizon: Verizon has a more limited WiFi calling option. For iPhone they offer the ability to place calls (outbound) on a stand-alone application one can download for free called Verizon Messages+. While this app claims to work for inbound calls, in my tests this is very hit or miss-- lets just say I wouldn't depend on it for any inbound call. They also just recently announced WiFi calling on a couple Android phone models including the Samsung S6, S6 Edge. No support yet for the built-in iOS wifi calling for iPhone.
  • Random Addition- Alaska Inside Passage Cruises: I got to go on one this past summer. For cellular coverage, a Verizon or AT&T phone (or Tracfone BYOD using Verizon) are your best options. Just turn off roaming before you go, and your phone will still work when in-port because Verizon and AT&T have some native service in Alaska. I'd bring a tracfone with me (tracfones are prepaid and don't roam) if I were a customer of T-Mobile or Sprint. While both of those have some included roaming, one wouldn't want to inadvertently roam on the maritime or "AtSea" service that costs you a bundle. i.e. the problem with turning on roaming at all, is that there is no easy way to permit roaming on one carrier, but not on another. The cruise ship's on-board system is expensive.

  • Hope you all have a very nice and well connected holiday season!


November 2014

Exciting In Cellular:

  • Inter-carrier HD: Verizon and AT&T are working together to permit intercarrier VoLTE calling. This will likely eventually mean all-digital connections from phone to phone irrespective of carrier.
  • Better Roaming? With consolidation around LTE and VoLTE (voice over LTE), we have the possibility for roaming to take place including between carriers like AT&T and Verizon who really haven't roamed on each other since the days of analog. Honestly, I'd be delighted even if we get interoperability for 911 calls. Lets get 911 working on all carriers even without roaming!
  • Simultaneos Voice and Data: VoLTE on Verizon means that Verizon iPhone 6 users can finally do voice and data at the same time.
  • WiFi calling (currently mostly available to T-Mobile users) promises to provide us with coverage in some places hard to serve with traditional cell sites.
  • HD Voice: Virtually all carriers supporting some form of HD voice.
  • Uncarrier: Industry changing- I continue to watch and respect T-Mobile for their uncarrier initiatives that are literally changing the US cellular industry.

All in all, having watched the cellular "scene" for years, I am more excited about cellular today than ever before. We're witnessing a truly amazing set of innovative changes in technology in the mobile space. The promise of a well-connected high powered miniature computer in your hand is here. The only limiting factor I really see are things like cost (lack of unlimited data plans), and the weakening of net neutrality.

Consumer Tip: We're definitely seeing increased competition. I suspect this will be a good holiday season for cellular plans. Careful attention to offerings will yield the best rewards. Sprint's iPhone for life deal strikes me as one of the better. Multiple carriers are fighting to win your family plan business. Prepaid offerings can be quite good too. If it were me, I'd likely use Verizon's Allset prepaid, but Cricket and Pagepluscellular also deserve a look.

This site has had to move to my personal web pages at this new URL. I've just decided to begin updating this site again as of 11/23/2013. It will get better soon. The content here isn't bad, it's just old and badly in need of updates. I'll keep the old content in the archived section with the new stuff coming along.

So some quick thoughts for November 2013:

  • T-Mobile both deserves a hard look for folks who live and travel within their coverage area, and a hearty thanks for all of their "uncarrier" initiatives. My favorite of their recent changes is included data access when traveling outside the US. Since they offer no-contract "post-paid" service, I'd even consider buying a device and plan from them for an international trip and cancel later.
  • Sprint is starting to roll-out their Spark initiative for faster LTE. Especially in Sprint's case I'm tired of promises. Let's judge all the carriers by what they're doing right this moment, and not what they say they're gonna do. No Kudos to Verizon for AWS LTE until I see it and use it, and no Kudos to Sprint getting faster LTE until I see *any* LTE in the places I would use it.
  • The promise of more interoperability is both more possible today, and further away today than it has been in the past. This has always been mostly a policy issue and not a technology issue. I mean this in multiple ways including LTE roaming, LTE phone interoperability between carriers etc.
  • Sprint (via Best Buy) has a promotion right now (with significant limitations) that permits a student to get a year of "free" service. Part of this deal is they need to buy a smartphone from Sprint at basically full retail. So if you wan that free year, and you're a student, better be willing to pay about $700 for it.

(This home page is the only thing I've touched yet. Stay tuned to see other portions of this site get updates. Since some of the content is way-old, check for pages with "LAST UPDATE 2013" or something reasonable)


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,, 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

Fall 2007

Summer 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.

March '06

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 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 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).

June 2005

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.

April 2005:

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.

March 2005:

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.


December 2004:

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 AC).
  • 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.

August 2004

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 coverage nicely.
  • 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.