Cell phone carriers

Jim K

Final Approach
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Richard Digits
We moved a bit under a year ago. Since then my Verizon cell phone has barely worked in my house, which is odd considering I live right along the interstate. The only thing I can figure is that my steel buildings are between the house and their tower. I've also tried T-Mobile here without success, which leaves ATT. I used to have ATT years ago and it worked fine here, so I need to be back on their network.

Question is, are the MVNO carriers using their network worth looking at? For that matter, it looks like Cricket (a prepaid brand owned by ATT) would be significantly cheaper than ATT itself. I don't really understand how this business model works unless there's a significant disadvantage I'm not seeing.

Paying $160/mo for 3 lines and 1 tablet with Verizon. Unlimited everything more or less. I think they throttle above a certain data usage, but I've never noticed it. We don't game or stream video beyond the occasional youtube video. Got an email last week they're going to raise the rate $4 per line in February to "improve your experience" :rolleyes:

ATT will do basically the same thing for $125ish

Cricket is $110, and they will provide "free" phones. I'm going to need a couple basic ones anyway because the A series Samsungs we're currently using aren't on ATT's whitelist.

ETA:nope, no free lunch, no free phones.
 
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Can't you just turn on WiFi calling?
 
Can't you just turn on WiFi calling?
Good question. My current phone is unable to connect to my wifi for some reason I haven't been able to figure out. It needs to be replaced anyway, so that might be the solution in the future, but I'm switching either way to save the $40+/mo. That's like 30 minutes of avgas.

The other issue is that our internet out here, while much better than it used to be, is not bulletproof. Not unusual for it to be down for a day or two a month, so I'd rather not be reliant on it for phone calls.
 
I'm on a tmobile mvno that's like $20 a month. I buy refurbed unlocked phones. I might upgrade to an iPhone 12 soon... :)

I will say that customer service matters. I tried to switch my dad to boost (an att mvno), and not only did they dork up the port and lose our number of ~50 years, their support was just useless and unhelpful. They never did manage to activate it. Apparently the future is if tier 1 support can't fix it, GFY, we'll get other customers. pennymac must be poaching their call center folks, because they're a close second. May chatgpt invite them all to reskill and move up the value chain.
 
have you considered a microcell? Or last house was in an AT&T dead zone. Installed one and it solved the problem.
 
Too bad Tmobile doesn't work for you. My son's phone is Tello and does great. I want to switch my daughter over to save money but would have to get a new phone
 
My Verizon pricing is comparable. I travel a lot both domestic and interational. Over the last 15 years Verizon has always worked well no matter where in the US. I use a Google FI Android phone for international but Verizon will work for $10 a day
 
Question is, are the MVNO carriers using their network worth looking at?
For sure. If anything, you can give them a test drive and then port your number later.
I don't really understand how this business model works unless there's a significant disadvantage I'm not seeing.
Customer service, roaming agreements, data deprioritizing and international.
 
I used to use H20, which I believe is AT&T back end, for a long time until they finally turned off 3G. Couldn't find a 4G/5G phone I liked that worked with their network so switched to t-mobile. But all of that said I didn't have any trouble with H20, except their customer service was non-existent.
 
My house is in a fairly dead zone for all carriers. I had a Microcell for a while but finally ditched it when all our phones (iPhones) started supporting wifi calling.

As for carriers, my personal phones have been AT&T since the TDMA days. Never had any need to change. My office crackberry was Verizon (dual simmed with a international GSM because Textron would rather waste money than to just let us do what we want and get one on a GSM carrier). They're also the ones that insisted on hard setting autolock in there so you couldn't use the GPS app while driving.

They were also the ones that got rid of our RSA keychain tags in favor of an app on the phone/laptop. It took me a lot of rattling the cages by pointing out that most of our guys spent their entire time in facilities that would permit neither personal laptops or cellphones.
 
I had a booster at our last house for Verizon. It worked great until they upgraded the tower and changed the band. That change improved our service though so I never replaced it.

Had a microcell at the house before that. It was like pulling teeth to get one out of att, but it worked great. We were closer to town then and had more reliable internet. I had forgotten about it until @donjohnston brought it up.

Been working on this all evening. Decided we might as well get 4 lines as the oldest is going to start driving soon and the marginal cost is almost nothing. Looks like att is going to be about 160 with the hidden fees added in. Cricket is 120.

Cost of the phones is a wash, att wants to sell them for $2 a month for 36 months and cricket wants $69 up front.

Sidebar: who TF is buying these $1000-$1500 phones? Unreal.
 
I have yet to find any carrier that works well at our house- well actually almost none of them get any signal in our house at all. We're on wifi calling for the most part and I just set up outdoor long range wifi APs so we have connectivity around the premises.

The best carrier I've seen for coverage locally has actually been US Cellular, the only reason I'm not using them is outside of this area their coverage isn't so great.
 
With my old ATT phone, every time i went into my local Menards I'd drop a call and have minimal service...faraday cage?? When I built the house I put a metal roof on but never had a disruption.
 
AT&T isn't cheap, but I can be adrift at sea on a lifeboat or lost in the Gobi desert and still be able to post selfies on Facebook and check POA.
 
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every time i went into my local Menards I'd drop a call
Midwest problems :biggrin:

Seriously though, that was the issue at the last house. My office was out in the steel-sided & roofed shed. Phones worked fine in the house. I'm planning to do a steel roof on this house, so I'm sure that won't help either.

I think I'm okay with a lower level of CS from an mvno. I'd contacted Verizon exactly once in the last seven years, and they were no help at all, so I can't imagine I'd miss the "service" of a flagship company. I've never walked into a store, and new phones come from Amazon or eBay, slap the SIM in, and go. I like that I can sign up for cricket totally online with no human interaction, which does not seem to be the case with att. I will have to go speak to someone to get my tablet activated though.

Consumer cellular is the only other mvno in the ballpark pricewise with unlimited data. Their website is much less robust and they want you to call them. They seem to be primarily targeting old people, which would normally work for me, but my aversion to talking to people is stronger.
 
A metal building can do that. I found that my my GSMauto cell phone preheat controller lost all contact when the hangar door was closed. I had to poke a remote antenna (fortunately, I had one lying around from another project) out the eaves to get it to work.
 
I think I'm okay with a lower level of CS from an mvno. I'd contacted Verizon exactly once in the last seven years, and they were no help at all, so I can't imagine I'd miss the "service" of a flagship company.
Fair enough. The only reason I tried boost in the first place.... My dad is currently a tracfone customer, which was recently borged by verizon. There were various notices about needing to migrate to a new sim, so I thought I'd be proactive and go to a verizon store. Had to bail on the first store entirely as the wait was too long. Second store, after waiting, not only did the CSRs not really know anything, the only path forward seemed to be the full fare verizon plans and not the mvno plans. The only business model seems to be pump and dump, same as it ever was.

So yeah, realistically, maybe the only path is McCarrier plans targeted at seniors and/or undocumented guest workers. I am not in the yute demographic that be streaming stuff 24/7.

The only thing that's really important to me is that the plan has unlimited data that downshifts to a slower speed rather than stopping entirely or charging overages.
 
Fair enough. The only reason I tried boost in the first place.... My dad is currently a tracfone customer, which was recently borged by verizon. There were various notices about needing to migrate to a new sim, so I thought I'd be proactive and go to a verizon store. Had to bail on the first store entirely as the wait was too long. Second store, after waiting, not only did the CSRs not really know anything, the only path forward seemed to be the full fare verizon plans and not the mvno plans. The only business model seems to be pump and dump, same as it ever was.

So yeah, realistically, maybe the only path is McCarrier plans targeted at seniors and/or undocumented guest workers. I am not in the yute demographic that be streaming stuff 24/7.

The only thing that's really important to me is that the plan has unlimited data that downshifts to a slower speed rather than stopping entirely or charging overages.
The story about effing up porting the phone number does concern me. That would be a real pain in the ass.
 
Maybe mine is an outlier, but at the airport my (Verizon-through-StraightTalk) signal has always been marginal, but just inside the metal hangar it’s stronger than outside.
 
Sidebar: who TF is buying these $1000-$1500 phones?
People not on a MVNO? :)

On a carrier, it's often free/cheap with 2 year agreement so it's not like that particular customer is shelling out that entire wad up front.

On a somewhat related note, a co-worker was planning a solo trip to the boonies and was worried emergencies. His buddies suggested an InReach. I pointed out the subscription requirement and suggested a PLB. He balked at the price so he did an early upgrade with his carrier to an iPhone 14 with satellite SOS.
 
The story about effing up porting the phone number does concern me. That would be a real pain in the ass.
Yeah, it was a charlie foxtrot that played out over months.
1. Try to buy boost sim at local Target, but they were out, so
2. Buy one on Amazon instead.
3. Go to activate and it dies partway through. Call & they say it can take 24h to activate. Fine. Call back a day later, more jerking around.
4. Finally get someone who says, oh, that's an old sim card, you need a new sim card, we'll mail you one.
5. Get new sim card, try again, now they say the number can't be ported because the previous carrier has it. This is, of course, not the case, because the previous carrier terminated service as soon as the number was ported out in step 3, so the number is in limbo somewhere, and there are no actual adults to talk to.
6. After a few more singsong iterations of the form "our escalation team is working on it, please call back in 3 days", give up on boost.
7. Try to reclaim number with the previous carrier. They actually went to heroic lengths to get the number back, but for some reason they needed physical access to the STB/docsis/voip hardware to provision it, which I could not provide as I was 300 miles away. This may have had a path to resolution but it just didn't work out, so I don't blame them for it.
 
For sure. If anything, you can give them a test drive and then port your number later.

Customer service, roaming agreements, data deprioritizing and international.
How do you test drive an MVNO without giving up your number?
I'm considering a switch from Verizon to Visible by Verizon.
 
I decided to place an order with Cricket. Supposed to be here tomorrow, coming from Indy, that surprised me a bit. Phones will be locked to Cricket for 6 mo., so we're committed for that long anyway. Can't be any worse than what we have now. I'll try to remember to update this after we live with it for a while.
 
How do you test drive an MVNO without giving up your number?
I'm considering a switch from Verizon to Visible by Verizon.
Get a sim card or virtual sim (if your phone is capable of that) and a new number from the mvno. Some phones are dual sim so you could have both in the same phone.

I went from at&t to Mint mobile (a mvno on T-mobile) and am very happy.
 
Get a sim card or virtual sim (if your phone is capable of that) and a new number from the mvno. Some phones are dual sim so you could have both in the same phone.

I went from at&t to Mint mobile (a mvno on T-mobile) and am very happy.
I didn't know that mint was on t-mobile...didn't know any were on t-mobile, so thanks for that.

Echo the idea of switching sims. Not all phones work well on all carriers in each area, or at least that used to be true. Not sure if that's because of different quality of reception on different bands in different use in each area, or if it even could be that some just don't have all the bands. In the old days, there were two sets of well defined bands, kind of an A and B, but since then frequencies have moved all over the place and I never kept track.

If there were visitors from another planet, one of the first things they'd wonder about is why we've spent a significant percentage of our technical capabilities building a world-wide communications network to support the efficient sharing of cat videos. Maybe they'd think that cats are the basis of a major religion? Maybe they are?
 
A bit of a fiddly site but once you figure out some of the filters it can give you an idea of provider/direction/distance of various towers.
 
How do you test drive an MVNO without giving up your number?
I'm considering a switch from Verizon to Visible by Verizon.
You get a new (random) number without cancelling your original service. If you like the new carrier, then port the number over.

My home number (amusingly a ten digit prime number) got ported over to my business service years after the service was set up.
 
I didn't know that mint was on t-mobile...didn't know any were on t-mobile, so thanks for that.
While Mint mobile is on the t-mobile network and started life as an independent company, t-mobile bought Mint in March 2023. So, I guess it still qualifies to be called a MVNO?
Mint has been generally very good coverage with a plan that suits my needs at a good price. All my interaction with Mint has been self service through their user friendly and capable website with no fuss, waiting in phone que to speak with someone or driving into a store.
 
I didn't know that mint was on t-mobile...didn't know any were on t-mobile, so thanks for that.
I think TMobile just bought Mint a few months ago, or at least a majority position. Cricket is the same in that it's a subsidiary of ATT. Verizon has one as well...maybe Boost?

A bit of a fiddly site but once you figure out some of the filters it can give you an idea of provider/direction/distance of various towers.
That's what was so frustrating about T-M. I can see their tower from my desk. I was planning on using them for home internet, and if that went well, phones as well. Unfortunately my experience with them was terrible from start to finish. The router was capable of getting a decent 4G signal, but the bandwidth was pathetic. In a different location, I could get a 5g signal, but it was so weak that bandwidth was just as bad. I'm sure a voice signal would be fine from the 4g tower, but their billing was such a nightmare I never want to do business with them again. Part of the problem was they couldn't seem to understand that the internet box couldn't get phone calls or text messages, and their entire system seems to be built around that capability. Similarly, the people on the phone couldn't wrap their head around an account without a phone. I guess I can understand that, but if your going to sell it, you should at least put it on the CS script.
 
I think TMobile just bought Mint a few months ago, or at least a majority position. Cricket is the same in that it's a subsidiary of ATT. Verizon has one as well...maybe Boost?


That's what was so frustrating about T-M. I can see their tower from my desk. I was planning on using them for home internet, and if that went well, phones as well. Unfortunately my experience with them was terrible from start to finish. The router was capable of getting a decent 4G signal, but the bandwidth was pathetic. In a different location, I could get a 5g signal, but it was so weak that bandwidth was just as bad. I'm sure a voice signal would be fine from the 4g tower, but their billing was such a nightmare I never want to do business with them again. Part of the problem was they couldn't seem to understand that the internet box couldn't get phone calls or text messages, and their entire system seems to be built around that capability. Similarly, the people on the phone couldn't wrap their head around an account without a phone. I guess I can understand that, but if your going to sell it, you should at least put it on the CS script.
I hear you. It's weird with TMHI when you're not also a cellular customer with them.
I've been fighting for 9 years to get decent enough Cellular internet service at our house, via Verizon mostly. Frontier DSL is useless here. Tmobile home internet, knock on wood, has been the bright spot so far in the last year or two. Highly Iocation dependent I know. I just installed a $300+ antenna on my TMHI modem after lots of studying & measuring signals from every direction and have it dialed in where I actually have decent enough upload for work calls and stability. It's been a long road to this point and thousands of dollars between equipment/data plans. And I'm only 5 miles out of the "big city".
What's hilarious is our phones are Verizon and the only way we can get signal/calls is via the Verizon 4g extender which gets its internet connection from the TMHI.
If you're going to try cellular home internet again peruse Nater Tater's channel for info.
He covers the main carriers and tests antennas and modems. Hit me up and I'll be glad to chat about it.
 
I hear you. It's weird with TMHI when you're not also a cellular customer with them.
I've been fighting for 9 years to get decent enough Cellular internet service at our house, via Verizon mostly. Frontier DSL is useless here. Tmobile home internet, knock on wood, has been the bright spot so far in the last year or two. Highly Iocation dependent I know. I just installed a $300+ antenna on my TMHI modem after lots of studying & measuring signals from every direction and have it dialed in where I actually have decent enough upload for work calls and stability. It's been a long road to this point and thousands of dollars between equipment/data plans. And I'm only 5 miles out of the "big city".
What's hilarious is our phones are Verizon and the only way we can get signal/calls is via the Verizon 4g extender which gets its internet connection from the TMHI.
If you're going to try cellular home internet again peruse Nater Tater's channel for info.
He covers the main carriers and tests antennas and modems. Hit me up and I'll be glad to chat about it.
That's interesting. I feel like I did some research and read that the box I had won't work with an external antenna, but that was 6 months ago so I might be misremembering. It's frustrating that it's so hard to even find out about the options that are available. While I was trying to make the TM box work (probably due to my google searches) I got a FB ad for "Watch Communications". It's a telephone cooperative out of Ohio that is providing high speed wireless internet to rural areas, and they happen to have a transmitter about 3 miles away. I had no idea. They have a few idiosyncrasies of their own, but I'm getting the advertised speeds (50 Mbps) for $50/mo and no data cap. T-M was $70, I never got above 10, and there was a 250 GB cap. Our previous house was $60 with no cap, but averaged around 5. In the evenings when demand was high it slowed to a crawl. I was going to go to Starlink which had JUST become available in our area, but I've been quite happy with Watch for less than half the price.
 
Sounds like the regular TMHI plan isn't available at your new location so you got the less advertised Lite plan with the data cap. I got on TMHI when it was $50/month a bit before they raised it to $60. There was a deal last year where they were offering it for $30/month. That ****ed off a lot of current customers! Some folks say the service is getting saturated though. At these prices folks in the cities are ditching their DSL/fiber/cable internet and piling on.
I also have the Verizon 5G home internet for $25/month since we have Verizon for our phones. Since I WFH it's a cheap backup/supplemental but its connection is not as good and there's no antenna available for that gateway/modem.
Now that my TMHI connection is stable (until they change something) I'm about to discontinue an old unlimited Verizon JetPack plan that they've deprioritized traffic on enough that it's pretty much useless.

All of the home internet and sometimes JetPack plans at the carriers are deprioritized all the time or based on traffic load on the towers so we're 2nd class citizens when it comes to bandwidth.

I have the TMHI "trashcan" gateway/modem and some surgery was required to hook up an antenna but it wasn't too bad. Based on my signal metrics and troubleshooting before I could tell the antenna would likely get me better reception/speed. My download speed was usually good enough but I really needed higher/more stable upload. The antenna improved both in my situation, again highly location dependent.
The newest TMHI gateway/modem has antenna ports out of the box but you don't get to pick which modem they'll send you.

I'm down in a valley along a creek with a fair amount of trees so the point to point wireless operations on elevators hasn't worked for neighbors so I never went that route.

Same with Starlink for me. It finally became available but I was willing to keep trying to get my current setup dialed in for almost half the cost. I was also not sure how stable it would be for my work needs.
Most of my neighbors jumped on Starlink so now they're not eating up the Verizon/TM signal out here!
 
Sounds like the regular TMHI plan isn't available at your new location so you got the less advertised Lite plan with the data cap
Yeah, it felt like a real bait & switch. They were advertising the 5g/50mbps/no limit plan that it sounds like you have, but when I called they said, "that's not available, but I can give you less for more money". At the time it still looked like the best option. I don't ever want to live "in town" again, but man cable internet was so cheap, easy, and fast. That's the only thing I miss. Now even our little village of 600 has fiber available in town.
 
A bit of a fiddly site but once you figure out some of the filters it can give you an idea of provider/direction/distance of various towers.
Best cell signal analysis app for Android is Network Cell Info Lite. Available on the Play Store. Includes a connectivity map function.

I've used it to map the best reception areas in my house.
 
We've been on US Mobile (mvno) for over a year, and they allow you to choose the big carrier to use (T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T). We pay $33/mo for 2 lines and 12GB of data which is more data than we even need since we're both remote workers and on wifi all the time. They have better rates if you do a full year prepaid like Mint Mobile. According to their online support and website their data on the major networks aren't deprioritized. I believe they will also allow you to switch sims between carriers if one doesn't work well for you, but then you have to do the whole port out/port in dance.
 
Phones showed up today. I have much better signal. I made a phone call from my desk for the first time in several years.
 
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