First ever Cell phone plan for flying purposes

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by 4RNB, Feb 24, 2021.

  1. 4RNB

    4RNB Pre-takeoff checklist

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    We own an iphone 11 but only use it in wifi hotspots and as backup ipad in flight. Shortly hope for more travel and want to have data available if airports or runways do not offer wifi so I can:
    1. Check weather
    2. File and close flight plans.
    3. Hire taxis and/or Ubers when travelling.
    4. Perhaps other things that I am not aware of.

    Many airports I go to seem to have wifi, but at least one, maybe two, did not. I am not sure I can continue to get by without data.

    Any suggestions of what cell phone carrier could best serve aviation needs of a newer pilot?
    Thank you.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
  2. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    Entirely depends on where you are and where you fly. T-Mobile's LTE band 71 is handy for remote regions if there's a tower within a reasonable range.

    I'm sure @denverpilot will soon weigh in on the reach of various LTE bands.

    One thing to keep in mind is whether your data plan includes de-prioritization.
     
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  3. Radar Contact

    Radar Contact Pattern Altitude

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    I have T-Mobile, used to have Verizon and my wife has AT&T. None of them work everywhere. I’d find the best service at wherever you’re likely to need it most and go with that. Having different carriers increases our odds of usability.
     
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  4. cowman

    cowman En-Route PoA Supporter

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    The short answer is Verizon and AT&T are going to work in most areas in the US. Pretty much any carrier will work in most larger towns/any major metro areas.

    The long answer is it depends on where you primarily intend to be flying. If you're going into more rural areas it's not unusual for one carrier to have only minimal voice-only coverage or none at all while the other has everything. Or there may be no coverage at all. Also do you know if your phone is fully unlocked? I'm assuming so if you bought it without a data plan but that could be an issue.
     
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  5. Shawn

    Shawn En-Route

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    The coverage varies by region. Out west Version tends to have better coverage but in the NE for example Verizon was useless and ATT was the carrier of choice.
     
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  6. SoonerAviator

    SoonerAviator Final Approach

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    I can't imagine not having a small data plan to serve those needs. Even a 2GB/month plan would suffice for what you are describing.
     
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  7. GeorgeC

    GeorgeC Administrator Management Council Member PoA Supporter

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    :yeahthat:

    I pay around $25/mo for a T-Mobile MVNO plan like that, which is effectively unlimited for my usage. The coverage isn't great if you're really in BFE, but it hasn't let me down yet.
     
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  8. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    Not only by region but also by phone. LTE bands come and go. Fortunately, the radio in the iPhone 11 is reasonably up to date.
     
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  9. Bill

    Bill Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Any of the majors should be fine. That said, travelling all over the eastern US with other motorcyclists Verizon seem to have the best coverage out in the boonies.
     
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  10. Flyabetic

    Flyabetic Filing Flight Plan

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    Google Fi.

    It allows you to bring in your own phones, iphones should be included.

    It's pay as you go data.

    It hops network when it needs to/looses signal.

    It's cheap, and has international stuff.

    It may not be perfect, but it's worth considering.
     
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  11. farangutan

    farangutan Pre-Flight

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    When I was on Google Fi, I requested a data sim for the ipad for this exact reason.
    I switch to Mint mobile (cheap, T-mobile MVNO) and just use the hotspot feature on my phone to connect my tablet to the internet for weather, filing, etc.
    If you already have a cell phone plan, try setting up a wifi hotspot. If you absolutely want another plan, get a cheap cell phone plan that uses another carrier's towers in case one works and the other doesn't. This is also more secure than connecting to public wifi.
     
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  12. schmookeeg

    schmookeeg Administrator Management Council Member

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    I did Google Fi for a few years. In the US, it was basically just T-Mobile without the good customer service. There were maybe three spots I found where Fi worked and my Tmob did not. G-Fi was great for international data, albeit metered and expensive-ish at $10/gb, but it was great to avoid playing the "new country, new sim card" game.
     
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  13. 4RNB

    4RNB Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm reading on Fi and it seems neat, like they use everybody's network
     
  14. 4RNB

    4RNB Pre-takeoff checklist

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    So, anyone on Google Fi now like certain models of phones?
     
  15. ColoPilot

    ColoPilot Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I will echo Google Fi is great -- especially if you don't use a lot of data since it's pay as you go for data. I haven't had any problems except when I first switched I brought my phone from AT&T. I had some strange network issues, especially in the mountains -- in certain areas I couldn't make a call even though it showed good coverage (i.e. 5 "bars"). Once I switched to a made-for-Fi phone, those issues disappeared.
     
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  16. 4RNB

    4RNB Pre-takeoff checklist

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    What phone do you use now?
     
  17. ColoPilot

    ColoPilot Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I use the Pixel3a -- it's old now, but I like that is runs stock Android -- no bloatware apps that you can't delete from the phone carrier. You get updates Android updates earlier than other phones and the camera is pretty good.
     
  18. Ted

    Ted The pilot formerly known as Twin Engine Ted

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    I’ve run a Verizon cell phone for my entire flying career. While no phone works everywhere, I’ve tested that and found that my Verizon phone works almost everywhere.

    Not the cheapest, but I think the best if you travel a lot.
     
  19. GBSoren

    GBSoren Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm also on Google Fi....use Pixel phones except for my daughter, she has an iPhone.
     
  20. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    Not exactly. When Google Fi first started out, it was just T-Mobile + Sprint. Since then T-Mobile bought Sprint so that point is now moot. Google Fi also added US Cellular along the way, but US Cellular is pretty small so doesn't make that much difference.
     
  21. Daleandee

    Daleandee Cleared for Takeoff

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    I have Verizon and that has been my experience also. Many times friends are standing around at a fly-in in the middle of nowhere and I'm the only guy with a signal.
     
  22. asicer

    asicer Final Approach

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    To the OP, you gotta take these anecdotes with a huge grain of salt. Cell phones are not like aviation radios where the same set of frequencies have been in use since the days when mastodons roamed North America. Cell phone carriers allocate and re-allocate frequencies all the time. And towers along with cellphones are constantly being upgraded.

    So when someone gets on here and posts "I got signal on Verizon while my buddy on T-Mobile didn't" it's rather worthless. It could be:
    • Older cell phone won't talk to a newer tower
    • The anecdote was from last year and the tower is scheduled for upgrade next year
    • One in a million spot where one works and the other doesn't
    • Sunspots
     
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  23. rk911

    rk911 Line Up and Wait PoA Supporter

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    we have Verizon and when we travel by RV it's always where we are.
     
  24. Jumpmaster

    Jumpmaster Line Up and Wait

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    I’ve got Verizon two years ago after being a long time AT&T customer. Here in the PNW, Verizon works very well in most places and I’ve had good luck with it all over the West except for Alaska where outside of Anchorage it sucks. I’ve gotten cell and data as high as 8500’MSL although normally I can’t pick it up much above 5,000’ MSL. I got really tied of AT&T’s attitude towards existing customers and when we moved to Verizon, we cut our overall rate in 1/2 and got a veterans discount on the plan as well. It’s funny how American businesses work. The cost to acquire a new customer is significant; yet most companies don’t give a damn about exiting customers and endlessly chase after new customers,AT&T’s new claims notwithstanding. Must be how the executive bonuses are structured. And this is true whether you are talking about credit card companies, cable companies, phone companies, whatever. The new kid gets the best deal. So consumers are compelled to switch every now and then to avoid being taken for granted and over-charged.
     
  25. GBSoren

    GBSoren Pre-takeoff checklist

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    A couple of things I really like about Google Fi...

    1. No extra charge for data plan for your iPad. Just request a sim card(no charge) and it just uses data from your plan. If, like me, you have the unlimited plan, you have no charge to add iPads. I have 3 iPads with data service, iPads & iPhone run only on the now T-Mobile network.

    2. Pixel phones automatically use voice over wifi when available. Great for area's that have less than great cell coverage.

    3. International service (both voice and data) is much cheaper than any other provider I've been with. Nice when traveling to the Bahamas!

    Now the negatives.

    Not as good for Iphone users. Still works, but only on T-Mobile network.

    Coverage not as good as AT&T or Verizon in my area (western MN). Ranking the 3 I'd put them in this order here, AT&T, Verizon then Google Fi.

    Overall I'm happy with Google Fi, for us the positives out weigh the negatives. I don't like long term contracts or paying for my phone over 24 months. I love my new Pixel 4a 5G, and bought it for $349 on a black Friday special!
     
  26. MBDiagMan

    MBDiagMan En-Route

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    In my experience even the most isolated, podunk airports I have been to have WIFI at the terminal.

    That said though, about three years ago I bought a new iPad and iPhone. I put unlimited data plans on both. I did it solely based on my flying needs. It has worked out extremely well. I use the midlevel Foreflight package and Bluetooth or WiFi to the transponder depending on which plane I’m in. It has been some of the best aviation money I’ve spent.

    As a side note, when my grandkids want to use one of my gadgets for their wretched games, Olpa says; “ Sorry, these are only for flying.” In reality, modern software deals with multiple applications very well, but I’m retired from a career with automation and control software. With such systems, running unrelated, unnecessary applications or connecting them to the outside world is a BAD IDEA. Again this is not so true in today’s world, but with some of the crude and immature multi tasking, multi user operating systems of the past it was dangerous business. Shutting down production systems often cost thousands of dollars per minute of down time, so the criticality of the mission was something approaching that of flying. In some cases where there were processes that could result in death if something went wrong it was indeed at the same criticality level as flight.
     
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  27. 4RNB

    4RNB Pre-takeoff checklist

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    My primary ipad is only for the plane!
     
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  28. masloki

    masloki Line Up and Wait

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    Go with Gogo. Perfect coverage when you are above 3000 feet. You fly a jet, right?
     
  29. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    My experience is Verizon has worked everywhere, although Boston(!) seems to have weaker signals, although it worked. Verizon works in very rural places except the middle of some some national parks (no one works there). AT&T doesn't have as good coverage in general, except in Boston, where it was better than Verizon. I've no personal experience with the other carriers.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
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  30. JVerb

    JVerb Filing Flight Plan

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    Google Fi, so you're not tied to a specific carrier.